2015 Was A Historically Safe Year, But Fear-Mongering News Says Otherwise

The crime rate was up from 2014 but still lower than usual. We can choose how to take the news.

Despite 2015 being one of the safest years in recent memory, prepare for most news organizations to harp on the increase in violent crime from 2014.

A new FBI crime report this week showed a 3.9 increase in violent crime from 2014. That's not an insignificant number, and one you can be sure will be harped on by presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has repeatedly drawn a frightening picture of crime in America and calls himself the "law and order" candidate.

But it's also a number that can be encouraging with the right context. In fact, since 1996, the only years with lower violent crime rates were 2013 and 2014, which were both historically low. As one law professor pointed out to NPR, no year during George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush's presidency was as safe as 2015. Even as recently as 2006, the violent crime rate was 16 percent higher than it was in 2015.

Seven cities were largely responsible for the increase in crime last year: Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Kansas City, Mo. That's according to Fordham law professor John Pfaff. But another law professor from Harvard, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., said even among those seven cities there is some encouraging news.

"Two of the cities with homicide increases in 2015 are the District of Columbia and Baltimore," Sullivan told Huffington Post. "Yet, already in 2016 we are seeing near double-digit decreases in both cities."

Despite this context, news outlets are already reporting a "surges" in murders and violent crime. 

Apparently, it's working: 61 percent of Americans believe crime has gotten worse over the last 10 years, even though the data tells a different story. The proof is in the pudding: despite 21 years of declining murder rates, there have been seven years (at one point, four consecutive years) where there was an uptick in murders. And yet, the long-term trend is in the right direction, and something to be celebrated. In other words, don't go bananas about a one-year increase.

As for 2016, preliminary reports are already showing an increase in overall crime as small as 1.3 percent. While the country is expected to see a 13.1 percent increase in the murder rate over 2016, nearly half (234 of 496 murders) is attributable to Chicago, suggesting hyper-local trends that are outliers driving the numbers up on the national scale.

Overall, the crime report for 2015 is nothing to panic about. According to many crime and law experts, we should be celebrating safety that has been unprecedented over the last few decades. 

Cover photo: Flickr