US Murders Drop Most Since 1990s as Crime Abates in 2018

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
October 1, 2019 Updated: October 2, 2019

Not since 1999 has the United States seen the number of murders drop so precipitously as in 2018, when 1,080 fewer people died of homicide or non-negligent manslaughter than the year before, according to national crime statistics released by the FBI on Sept. 30.

The murder rate dropped to 5 per 100,000 residents, a decline of 6.8 percent from 2017.

Overall, the violent crime rate dropped by 3.9 percent, most notably the robbery rate, which slid by 12.6 percent in 2018. The property crime rate, meanwhile, decreased by 6.9 percent. The burglary rate, in particular, declined by 12.5 percent.

Of the seven crimes captured in the data—homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, and car theft—only rape was up in 2018, by 2.1 percent.

The decline in crimes accelerated from 2017, when the violent crime rate dropped by about 1 percent and the rate of property crime fell by 3.6 percent.

The past two years saw a decrease from the major crime spike in the two years prior. Between 2014 and 2016, the murder rate had increased by more than 20 percent. The country hadn’t seen a two-year increase so steep for decades.

Winners and Losers

As usual, more than 80 percent of violent crimes were concentrated in cities in 2018, but there were notable improvements. Violent crime decreased by about 25 percent since 2016 in Las Vegas, Atlanta, Miami, Virginia Beach, and Minneapolis.

On the other hand, some cities that have historically maintained lower crime rates have seen substantial increases. Violent crime was up since 2016 in San Jose, California, by 14 percent, Seattle by 18 percent, Denver by 14 percent, Oklahoma City by 13 percent, and 40 percent in Aurora, Colorado. Also, murders were up by nearly 70 percent in Seattle and almost 80 percent in Portland, Oregon, though murder rates still remain well below U.S. average for both cities.

Philadelphia was the only city with a population above a million where murders went up since 2016—by almost 30 percent.

Good for Trump

The overall decrease in crime benefits President Donald Trump, who ran on a tough-on-crime platform. Increased safety was also one of his major promises to inner-city black Americans, who’ve been historically most affected by high crime rates.

“It is wonderful news for America’s inner cities that the crime increase of 2015 and 2016 has leveled off, since the vast majority of victims of that crime increase—3,000 additional homicide deaths—were urban blacks. Likewise, the beneficiaries of a violent crime decline will be urban blacks,” said Heather Mac Donald, policing expert at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

She thinks the positive trend is due in part to the media switching focus from the “Black Lives Matter” narrative centered on police brutality, which she considers false, to the “Resistance” narrative centered on opposition against Trump.

“The absence of a Black Lives Matter-supporting president and attorney general may have persuaded more cops to go back to proactive policing,” Mac Donald said in an email. “Still, recently-elected left-wing prosecutors are carrying on the crusade against law enforcement, refusing to prosecute low-level crimes in the name of racial justice. As their policies play out, in places like Philadelphia, which is still seeing a crime increase, and elsewhere, the gains in public safety from the previous two decades of assertive law enforcement remain at risk.”

Update: The article has been updated with information about murder rates in Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.