Violent Crime Down in 2017 After 2-Year Spike, FBI Says

September 25, 2018 Updated: October 5, 2018

Americans committed fewer violent and property crimes in 2017, according to statistics collected by the FBI. Some areas, however, have significantly deteriorated and others, despite improvements, still need attention.

The violent crime rate—including offenses such as murder, robbery, and aggravated assault—dropped by almost one percent and is still about 4 percent above the 2014 rate. The murder rate dropped by 0.7 percent.

The decline in crime, albeit small, cut short a worrisome spike in violence in previous years. Between 2014 and 2016, the murder rate had increased by more than 20 percent, to 5.4 per 100,000 residents, from 4.4.  The last two-year period that the rate soared so quickly was between 1966 and 1968.

The rate of property crimes, such as theft and burglary, has declined 3.6 percent since 2016 and is down more than 26 percent since a decade ago.

“After historic increases in violent crime in 2015 and 2016, we are beginning to see encouraging signs,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “But our work is not done. While we have made progress, violent crime and drug trafficking continue to plague our communities and destroy the lives of innocent, law-abiding Americans.”

Pervasive Problems

Of the estimated 17,284 murders in 2017, more than half occurred in larger cities—with populations of more than 100,000.

There are fewer than 300 such cities in the United States, and while they account for less than 30 percent of the country’s population, many of them contribute far beyond their share to national crime rates and have done so for years, even decades.

While the national murder rate inched down to 5.3 per 100,000 residents, it spiked by 15 percent in Philadelphia, to a rate of more than 20 per 100,000 residents. Columbus, Ohio, saw a massive 54-percent murder rate increase, reaching nearly 16.3 per 100,000 residents.

The murder rate in St. Louis rose by more than 10 percent and reached 66 per 100,000 residents—the highest among larger cities.

Baltimore’s murder rate rose by nearly 8.5 percent, reaching some 56 per 100,000 residents.

And Baton Rouge, Louisiana, saw a historic homicide surge of 85 percent, leading to a murder rate that topped 38 per 100,000.

Cincinnati, Kansas City, Stockton, California, and the Nashville, Tennessee, metro area also saw significant increases.

Firearms were used in 72.6 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.6 percent of robberies, and 26.3 percent of aggravated assaults, the report said.

Emerging Problems

Some crime surges occurred in areas historically considered safe. In Honolulu, 32 people were murdered last year, twice the 2016 count, while the 27 murders in Seattle pushed the homicide rate up nearly 38 percent.

The murder rate in Portland, Oregon, jumped nearly 70 percent, although the city has seen worse in previous years. However, robbery, burglary, and aggravated assault also rose to numbers unseen for at least a decade.

Among other surprises, murder rates more than doubled in Reno, Nevada, and Des Moines, Iowa. Only a few years ago, the annual number of murders in Des Moines was in the single digits. But it finished 2017 with 28 murders, the most in at least four decades.

Positive Change

Many cities historically thought of as crime-ridden experienced notable improvements in 2017.

After a shocking crime wave over the previous two years, the Chicago murder rate declined by 14 percent, though it still stands above 24 per 100,000 residents.

Washington’s murder rate fell by more than 17 percent, yet the city still sits near 17 per 100,000 residents—more than three times the national average.

Milwaukee got a break too, with the murder rate down almost 16 percent after two years of deadly violence not seen for decades.

In a massive improvement, the murder rate dropped by more than 30 percent in Atlanta. The city hasn’t seen so few homicides (79) since the 1960s.

And the New York City murder rate declined by more than 13 percent in 2017 to less than 3.4 per 100,000.

Rest of the Country

Americans experience criminality drastically differently based on their zip code. Of the nearly 9,600 cities reporting crime data to the FBI, more than 7,500 didn’t report a single homicide and 1,100 didn’t even have a violent crime to report. Granted, many of the cities have tiny populations.

All in all, 66 cities with over 5,000 residents went the whole year without reporting a single violent crime.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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