On December 6, the New York Times headlined: “U.S. Murder Rate for 2018 Is on Track for a Big Drop.” The story was based on homicide statistics from 66 large cities. (The official FBI numbers for 2018 won’t come out until September 2019.)
The murder rate in the United States in 2018 is on track for the largest one-year drop in five years.
Murder rose 23 percent nationally between 2014 and 2016 before leveling off in 2017.
The Times can’t think what might have caused the homicide rate to rise rather dramatically during the last years of the Obama administration. It does provide this useful chart, with the homicide rate for 2018 based on 66-city data:
Note that the Y-axis starts at zero, which means that the U.S. has seen a wide variation in our murder rate over the past 50 years. In the 1960s, the murder rate (expressed in homicides per 100,000 population) rose rapidly. By the early 1970s it was around twice the previous level. The homicide rate dipped during the 1980s but remained high until the mid-1990s, and then began to decline sharply. That decline had something to do with the crackdown on crack cocaine. Maybe other factors were at work as well. I think the more widespread ownership of handguns and issuance of carry permits played a positive role.
The decline that began in the mid-1990s continued to the point that by 2014, the homicide rate was back where it had been before the social upheaval of the 1960s. But then something happened. In 2015, the homicide rate suddenly reversed its downward trend and spiked upward. In 2016 it jumped upward again. In those two years–2015 and 2016–there were 4,968 more murders than would have been the case if the 2014 rate had remained steady. (The delta is actually more than that, since population increased after 2014.) This table tells the story.
It should be noted that other violent crimes increased during the last two years of the Obama administration, as well. The incidence of forcible rape, like homicide, has been in long-term decline–down from a high of 42.8 per 100,000 in 1992 to 25.9 in 2013. It rose slowly for a couple of years, then took off like a shot in 2016, jumping suddenly from 28.4 per 100,000 to 40.9. Aggravated assault similarly spiked in 2015 and 2016, while property crimes in general continued their historic decline.
So what happened in 2015 and 2016 to cause the violent crime rate, including the homicide rate, to rise after decades of decline? I can’t think of any explanation other than the Black Lives Matter movement and the relentless attacks on law enforcement that it engendered, which were supported by the Obama administration. But what happened when Donald Trump took over in the White House? The homicide and violent crime rates began to fall again. If the New York Times’s projection is correct, the second year of the Trump administration saw a steeper decline in the homicide rate.
Again, what could possibly have caused this change? I can’t think of a plausible theory other than the Trump administration’s renewed support for law enforcement and the waning of the anti-police Black Lives Matter movement. Something happened beginning in 2017 that has saved thousands of lives. If it wasn’t the new administration in Washington, what was it?
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