The number of violent crimes reported across the United States rose for the second consecutive year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in an annual report released Monday, though historical crime rates remain near record lows.
The report found an estimated 1.2 million violent crimes committed in 2016, up just over 4 percent from 2015. The number of murders committed rose nearly 9 percent, while aggravated assaults and rapes were up about 5 percent over the previous year.
But the violent crime rate remains well below historical rates. As recently as 2007, there were 1.4 million violent crimes committed across the country. The rate of violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents has declined from 611 in 1997 to 386.3 today.
“Any increase is troubling and tragic, but there’s no indication at this point that we’re in the midst of a new crime wave,” said Adam Gelb, director of the public safety performance project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Despite these increases, rates are at or near 50 year lows, and half of their peak in the early ’90s.”
The violent crime rate is 18 percent lower than it was a decade ago, the data show. The murder rate is about half the rate of historical peaks in 1980 and 1991.
President Trump frequently cited the threat of violent crime, even though those rates have tumbled in recent years, while on the campaign trail. In his inaugural address, he pledged to stop what he called “American carnage.”
Analysts said the rise in violent crime is happening mostly in large cities, which account for the vast majority of the increases in murders. Most agree the data do not show some massive new crime wave. The rate of serious violent and property crimes is at its lowest level since 1966.
“Concerns about a national crime wave are premature,” wrote Ames Grawert and James Cullen, analysts at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Violent crime rose more than 7 percent in cities with populations of more than a million, compared with just a 2 percent increase in suburban areas. The murder rate spiked more than 20 percent in the largest cities.
Chicago alone has been responsible for more than half the increase in the murder rate in the nation’s 30 largest cities, according to the Brennan Center’s analysis. Chicago experienced 781 murders last year, far more than any other major city and 63 percent higher than the year before.
New York, by comparison, experienced 335 murders in 2016 — even though it has more than three times Chicago’s population.
Violent crime also increased notably in Los Angeles, Dallas, San Jose and Baltimore.
At the same time, violent crimes fell by more than 10 percent in Washington, D.C., and by significant percentages in Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Detroit.
Analysts said the numbers do not add up to any clear trend in recent years. The Major Cities Chiefs Association, which includes top law enforcement officials in 57 large cities, found the number of murders committed through the first half of 2017 had fallen in 18 cities — including Chicago — compared with the first half of 2016. Rapes and robberies were down in a majority of big cities from the same period last year, too.
“What’s happening right now defies a big picture, national explanation. There seem to be very localized circumstances and situations that are driving the increase,” Pew’s Gelb said.
He pointed to previous FBI data from 2005 and 2006, when the violent crime rates ticked up after steady declines. After hitting a recent peak in 2006, crime rates fell again.
“There were dire predictions of a crime wave and calls for draconian policies,” he said. “Then crime resumed dropping.”
The number of property crimes declined in 2016, the 14th consecutive year those crimes have declined. The rate of property crimes has fallen by nearly half since 1997, led by far fewer automobile thefts and robberies.
Still, property crimes cost victims an estimated $15.6 billion, the FBI said.
The FBI surveyed more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies to compile its annual Uniform Crime Reporting program. The bureau cautions that the numbers are estimates, reflecting the number of crimes reported, rather than all crimes that occurred. A few thousand law enforcement jurisdictions do not report their data to federal authorities each year.
Law enforcement agencies reported arresting an estimated 10.6 million people in 2016, including 1.5 million charged with drug abuse, more than a million charged with driving under the influence and more than a million for assaults.