Violent Crime Rate Dropped Slightly Last Year, FBI Says

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After two consecutive years of increases, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased 0.2 percent last year compared with 2016, said the FBI in its annual report on “Crime in the United States,” released on Monday.

Property crimes dropped 3 percent, marking the 15th consecutive year that category declined.

Taking a look at 5- and 10-year trends, the 2017 estimated violent crime total was 6.8 percent above the 2013 level but 10.6 percent below the 2008 level, the FBI said.

The data were released as part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, which compiles reports submitted voluntarily by local law enforcement agencies.

It differs from the U.S. Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures crime based on interviews with U.S. residents on whether they had been victimized in the previous year.

Because much crime is not reported, the victim survey reports much higher numbers. Its estimate for violent crimes around the nation for 2016, the latest available, was 5.7 million incidents. the FBI number for 2017 released on Monday was 1,247,321.

Of the 18,547 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR annual report, 16,655 submitted data in 2017.

Among violent crimes in the FBI report, the estimated number of robberies fell four percent last year. The estimated number of murders and non-negligent manslaughter offenses decreased 0.7 percent from 2016.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University last week predicted that the murder rate in the largest 29 U.S. cities would drop 7.6 percent in 2018 over the previous year. The FBI compilation for this year won’t be issued for another year.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has spoken frequently about reports of rising crime numbers, said at a law enforcement conference in Alabama that the crime decline mentioned in the FBI report, “is something that we all should celebrate.”

In a speech last week to an Illinois conference, he noted that after several years of declining nationally, “in the last two years of the previous administration, the trends ominously reversed. From 2014 to 2016, the violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Assaults and rape went up nearly 10 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent.”

Speaking in the Chicago area, Sessions lamented that, “more people were murdered in Chicago in 2016 than in New York and Los Angeles combined—even though Chicago has one-fifth of the population of those two cities.”

The Brennan Center report projected that Chicago murders would decline this year to 515, much lower than last year’s 671 but still almost as high as New York and Los Angeles’ combined 574.

In Monday’s FBI compilation for 2017, reported aggravated assaults and rapes increased one and 2.5 percent respectively.

The FBI changed the definition of rape in 2013, effective last year. The term “forcible” was removed from the offense name, and the definition was changed to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Nationwide last year, the FBI reported an estimated 7,694,086 property crimes.

Burglaries dropped 7.6 percent and larceny-thefts decreased 2.2 percent, but motor vehicle thefts rose 0.8 percent. Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) suffered losses estimated at $15.3 billion.

In its report based on victimization interviews, DOJ estimated 15.9 million property crimes in 2016.

The FBI estimated that law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10,554,985 arrests in 2017 (excluding those for traffic violations) in 2017. That was a slight decrease from the 10,662,252 arrests reported for 2016.

Some 45.6 percent of violent crimes were cleared by police through arrests or identification of suspects. That was the same percentage reported in 2016.

In 2017, 13,128 law enforcement agencies reported staffing levels. As of October 31, 2017, they employed 670,279 sworn officers and 286,662 civilians—a rate of 3.4 employees per 1,000 inhabitants.

The FBI started a Crime Data Explorer (CDE) on June 30, 2017, to help users more easily find data in UCR system. The CDE is a web-based, interactive environment where users can query, view and download crime data.

Ted Gest is Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report and president of Criminal Justice Journalists.

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