On September 24, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) released its annual national crime statistics for 2017. The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics show that major crime rates are down nationwide with both violent crime and property crime rates in decline.
The national crime rate peaked in 1991 and has generally trended downward with crime last year at its lowest rate since 1967. The total crime rate fell 3% in 2017, with the violent crime rate down 1% and the murder/nonnegligent manslaughter rate down 2%. 2017 saw the seventh-lowest violent crime rate in the past half-century. Property crime, which constitutes the bulk of major crimes, fell 4%.
Crime rates nationally and at the state and metropolitan level fluctuate year to year, with trends typically emerging after several years of data. Further, linking trends to specific policy shifts or events is difficult, given the complexity involved with victims, criminals, and the criminal justice system, including law enforcement and incarceration. For instance, while crime rates have fallen since 1991, there were increases in violent crime in 2005-2006, 2012, and 2015-2016. Thus, while it may be that this marks a return to yearly decreases in violent crime, one year is too short a time frame to be considered a trend.
Some analysts have attributed the violent crime rate increases in 2015 and 2016 to a poor national climate regarding law enforcement and crime—the so-called “Ferguson Effect”—with Pew Research finding in a 2017 poll that some 76% of U.S. law enforcement officers indicating that they are more reluctant to use necessary force while 72% responded that they or their colleagues were less likely to stop and question suspicious people.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered remarks to about 200 law enforcement officials at the National Public Safety Partnership Symposium on Monday, saying, “Make no mistake about it: President Trump is a law and order president.” Sessions was critical of the past administration, noting, “I believe that American law enforcement is unsurpassed… We’ve had some really confused thinking in recent years. We intend to put an end to that… Big mistakes were made, some saw police as the problem. And as a result, in the last two years of the previous administration, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent… That’s what was happening when we took office.” Sessions shifted to observing that the FBI’s crime data showed a drop in violent crime and murder, remarking, “That is something that we all should celebrate. Those are the kind of results you get when you support law enforcement.”
At the state level, the major crime rate fell in 39 states, including Texas, a state that has pursued innovative criminal justice reforms for the past 11 years, resulting in the closure of eight adult prisons and many more juvenile lockups. Texas’ overall crime rate is now at its lowest level since 1966, according to FBI statistics. Continued focus on prioritizing prison for violent offenders while directing resources towards proven programs that reduce recidivism should result in further public safety gains.
This commentary was originally featured in Forbes on September 28, 2018.