Thursday, September 29, 2016

Violent Crime in 2015. A Look At The FBI Uniform Crime Report

The 2015 Uniform Crime Report was released by the FBI this past week providing an extensive portrait of crimes throughout the United States.

Since I've been analyzing where crime has been going down and where it has been going up in several recent posts, I thought I'd tackle the new information.

The Shift in Violent Crime Rates.
Violent Crime Rates: New York City Versus New York State
Violent Crime Rates Under New York City Mayor Giuliani

First of all, I have expressed a bias against looking at single year changes. This practice can misrepresent the bigger picture. Still, if one is willing to take the data in the context that there are upward and downward blips, there is meaningful information to be found.

In my analyses I've focused on two statistics: the murder rate and the overall violent crime rate. The murder rate because murder is the most dramatic of crimes and changes in the murder rates are highly reported. The violent crime rate because it gives a much better overall sense of the extent of violence in society. Murders and non-negligible homicides made up only 1.3% of the violent crime statistics in 2015.

Between 2014 and 2015, the violent crime rate rose 2.9% across the United States and the murder rate rose 11.1%.

Let's look at how these statistics were reported. The estimable ran the headline:

Murders Rose At Their Fastest Pace In A Quarter-Century Last Year.
But they remain well below their peak.

And the lead paragraph:

It's official: Murder rose across the U.S. last year at the fastest pace since 1990, according to data released by the FBI on Monday. There were an estimated 15,696 murders in 2015, 1,532 more than in 2014 and the most recorded in a calendar year since 2008.

From this paragraph you might conclude that the murder rate increased during the Obama administration, 2008 being the Bush's final year. This illusion is achieved through two maneuvers: first, you would need to pay attention to the fact that the statement is being made that the 2008 (Bush) figures were higher. Second, the beginning of the paragraph speaks of murder rates, while the end speaks of total murders and does not account for the increase in population. In 2008, there were 5.4 murders per 100,000 population. In 2015, even with the rise, there were 4.9, a decrease of -9.3%. Before 2009, to find a figure below that of 4.9 you would have to go back to 1963. In a similar manner, to have a better rate for violent crimes you would need to go back to 1970. Here are the violent crime rates and murder rates with the 2015 statistics added.

Don't Let Jitters Give You The Jitters.

As I said, I'm not a big fan of year to year changes. To illustrate why, here are the figures for murder rates in Alabama (per 100,000):

2014, 5.7
2015, 7.2

Now, this represents an alarming 26.3% increase. However, if we look at these years in context, we have:

2012, 7.1
2013, 7.2
2014, 5.7
2015, 7.2

It is bad that the numbers rose from 2014, however, the bigger picture says that 2014 was unusually low.

On the opposite end is Florida. The murder rate per 100,000.

2014, 5.8
2015, 5.1

This represents a -12.1% decrease, the second best of any state. However, placing this in context we find that:

2012, 5.2
2013, 5.0
2014, 5.8
2015, 5.1

In this instance, 2014 was unnaturally high. In the case of Florida, don't panic over the 2013 to 2014 figures. Don't celebrate (too much) over the 2014 to 2015 figures.

As I've said above, while there is a focus on murders, the violence crime rates are a better judge of overall public safety and less prone to year-to-year blips. This set up some interesting contrasts. In Connecticut, the murder rate increased 37.5% in 2015 over 2014. Violent crime was down by -10%.

So, with those caveats in mind, looking at the various states (and the District of Columbia) where did the  murder rates and violent crime rates increase the most?

States with the greatest percent increase in murder rates, 2014 to 2015.
State (DC) %Increase_M
South Dakota 60.9
District of Columbia 51.6
Minnesota 50
Wisconsin 44.8
Alaska 42.9
Kansas 41.9
Maryland 41
Connecticut 37.5
Oklahoma 33.3
Kentucky 30.6

The ten states with the greatest percent increase in violent crime rates, 2014 to 2015. 

State %Increase_VC
Iowa 21.1
Vermont 18.6
South Dakota 17.9
Alaska 14.9
Wyoming 14.2
Hawaii 12.8
Missouri 12.6
Oregon 12.3
Kansas 12
West Virginia 11.8

What can be said from the listings above? Three states made it on to both lists: South Dakota, Alaska, and Kansas. Of those, South Dakota and Alaska were among states with the highest violent crime increases over the last 25 years. North Dakota (on the lists below) reversed its trend toward rather large increases in violent crimes. Beyond this, the lists are a hodge-podge of highly urbanized areas and the most rural of states.

Several of the states on the above lists were very divergent between the change in violent crime rates and the change in murder rates. Connecticut experienced the seventh largest percentage increase in murder rate and the third best drop in its violent crime rate. West Virginia had the tenth largest increase in violent crime and the fourth best drop in its murder rate.

The takeaway message is to beware of simplistic or sensational conclusions from one year's data. Within individual locations there are crime waves. Other locations often balance these out. Trends in increasing or decreasing crime take years to play out.

The five states with the greatest percent decrease in murder rates, 2014 to 2015.

State %Decrease_M
Hawaii -21.1
Florida -18.6
North Dakota -17.9
West Virginia -14.9
Idaho -14.2

The five states with the greatest percent decrease in violent crime rates, 2014 to 2015.

State %Decrease_VC
Utah -21.7
Florida -14.5
Connecticut -10
North Dakota -9.3
Massachusetts -5

Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press

Never Kill A Friend is available for purchase in hard cover format and as an ebook.
The story follows Shelley Krieg, an African-American detective for the Washington DC Metro PD as she tries to undo a wrong which sent an innocent teenager to prison.

Hard cover: Amazon US
Kindle: Amazon US
Hard cover: Amazon UK
Kindle: Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble 


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