Violent crime rose by 4.1 percent and homicides by 8.6 percent in 2016, according to FBI crime data released Monday, marking a second straight year of increases.
While the violent crime rate is still low by historic standards, the Justice Department said the 2016 increase was the largest in 25 years, and it underscores Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ warnings of an impending surge.
“For the sake of all Americans, we must confront and turn back the rising tide of violent crime. And we must do it together,” Mr. Sessions said.
According to the FBI’s uniform crime report, law enforcement agencies recorded 1.2 million violent crimes last year, including 17,250 homicides. That translates to a homicide rate of 5.3 per 100,000 people.
It’s the highest number of slayings since 2006, when law enforcement recorded 17,309 homicides and the homicide rate was 5.8 per 100,000 people.
The 2016 increase came a year after a 4 percent increase in violent crime in 2015, and an 11 percent increase in homicides.
Criminologists and law enforcement leaders say that much of the 2016 increase in homicides is attributable to significant upticks in specific cities, rather than a national crime wave.
“Crime remains near historic lows, with an uptick in murder and violence driven in part by problems in some of our nation’s largest cities,” said Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “At the same time, other cities like New York are keeping crime down.”
Crime analyst Jeff Asher noted that of the 3,086 more homicides reported by the FBI over the last two years, Chicago and Baltimore account for almost 15 percent of the increase.
The differing takes on the crime data come at a time when the administration is touting its tough-on-crime approach as a way to stem the violence.
President Trump pledged to run the “law-and-order administration,” while Mr. Sessions has put gangs and drug traffickers in the Justice Department’s cross hairs, and routinely blamed sanctuary cities that shield illegal immigrants from deportation for cultivating a culture of lawlessness.
But Ronal Serpas, chairman of Law Enforcement Leaders and the former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, cautioned against an overreaction.
“False narratives about a national crime wave will not help. They make it harder for law enforcement to implement proven tactics that address the real issues, instead of the myths,” Mr. Serpas said.
He said while the 2016 upticks should be addressed, preliminary data from 2017 indicates that crime is back on the decline.
The FBI’s uniform crime report uses data collected annually from more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country. Violent crimes include murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Though the violent crime rate rose, to 386 per 100,000 people, it’s still lower than it was a decade ago, when it was 472 per 100,000 people in 2007, and 611 per 100,000 people in 1997.
Property crime dropped last year by 1.3 percent to approximately 7.9 million crimes, according to the FBI.
The report also documented a multiple-year slide in the number of crimes reported cleared — meaning an arrest was made or suspect identified.
Police cleared 45.6 percent of violent crimes last year compared with 48.1 percent in 2013. For property crimes, 18.3 percent were cleared last year compared with 20.2 percent in 2014.
Arrests also dropped, from approximately 10.7 million in 2015 to 10.6 million in 2016. Of the arrests reported in 2016, which exclude those made for traffic violations, 1.5 million were for drug abuse offenses and another 1 million were for driving under the influence.
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