The Brennan Center, a liberal-leaning law and public policy think tank, has released its final analysis of crime rates in 2015. And though the authors seem strangely determined to suppress fears about a crime wave and rebut claims about a so-called Ferguson effect, their data do give some cause for concern. Specifically: While the overall crime rate remained constant, and the violent crime rate ticked up by only 3.1 percent, the murder rate spiked by 13.2 percent in the 30 largest U.S. cities, “with 19 cities seeing increases and 6 decreases.”
The report assures readers that the murder rate jump is insignificant because “in absolute terms, murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase can lead to a large percentage change” and “crime rates remain at historic lows.” However, murder rates in the 30 largest cities have fallen in all but six years since 1990, and 13 percent seems to be the largest single-year increase during that time period. Moreover, if we were witnessing the beginnings of a sustained rise in violent crime, we wouldn’t expect homicides to revert immediately to 1990s levels all at once—we would expect incremental, annual increases.
It is somewhat encouraging (at least for people who live elsewhere) that the bulk of the killing was concentrated in three cities (Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago), suggesting that any increase seems “to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic.” But it does not imply, as the authors do, that there is nothing to see here.