The homicide total has risen about 16 percent in the largest U.S. cities, reports the website FiveThirtyEight, based on data from 59 of the 60 most populated, all except Anaheim, Ca. That doesn't come close to reversing the long-term decline in homicides, and it’s’ a less dire picture than the one painted several large media outlets that highlighted cities with the biggest increases. Last week, the New York Times said on its front page that “cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders,” accompanied by a chart showing crime trends in 10 cities. (The latest FBI compilation of reports from police departments runs through June 2014.)
Among the 59 big cities, in 25 of them, homicides were up by 20 percent or more from a year ago. The picture varies a lot by city. Homicides are up 76 percent in Milwaukee but down 43 percent in Boston. They're also down in 19 other cities. Most of these changes aren't statistically significant on a city level. Even amid the national upward trend, and in some of the country's most populous cities, homicides remain a rare event. Some increases that look large on a percentage basis affect the raw totals only slightly, to an extent that could arise by chance alone. A 20 percent increase in Seattle sounds a lot more significant than an increase to 18 homicides from 15. In 16 of the 59 cities, there was a significant increase; we'd expect about three cities to show an increase that big by chance alone. In two cities — Boston and Arlington — there was a significant decrease.