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Violent crime is declining rapidly in the United States, even if Americans don't believe itExBulletin

Violent crime is declining rapidly in the United States, even if Americans don't believe itExBulletin


What you see depends a lot on what you look at, according to a crime analyst. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images .

rock caption Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

What you see depends a lot on what you look at, according to a crime analyst.

Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

In 2020, the United States experienced one of the most dangerous years in decades.

The number of murders across the country increased by nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020, according to FBI statistics. The overall violent crime rate, which includes murders, assaults, robberies and rapes, increased slightly by about 5% during the same period.

But in 2023, crime in the United States looked very different.

“At some point in 2022, late 2022 or into 2023, there was just a tipping point where violence started to go down and it continued to go down,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics.

In cities large and small on both coasts, violence has diminished.

“The national picture shows that murders are declining. We have data from over 200 cities showing a 12.2% decline…in 2023 compared to 2022,” Asher said, citing his own analysis of public data. It found that cases of rape, robbery and aggravated assault were also declining.

Yet when people are asked about crime in the country, they have the impression that the situation is much worse.

A Gallup poll released in November found that 77 percent of Americans thought there was more crime in the country than the previous year. And 63% say there is a “very” or “extremely” serious crime problem, the highest in the poll's history dating back to 2000.

So what's going on?

What cities see

What you see depends a lot on what you look at, according to Asher.

“There's never been a news report saying, 'There were no thefts yesterday, no one actually shoplifted at Walgreens,'” he said.

“Especially when it comes to murders, there is no doubt that the numbers are going down. [a] a really fast pace right now. And the only way I find to discuss it with people is to talk about what the data says. »

There are exceptions to this trend: Murder rates are rising in Washington, D.C., Memphis and Seattle, for example, and some nonviolent crimes like car theft are on the rise in some cities. But the national trend in violence is clear.

NPR spoke with three local journalists from Baltimore, San Francisco and Minneapolis to better understand what's happening in their communities.

“We've seen two years now of gradual declines in crime, which I think is enough to say there's a positive trend there,” said Andy Mannix, crime and crime reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Rachel Swan, a news and business reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, says there are “two really visible crises” in downtown: homelessness and open drug use.

“And honestly, people confuse that with crime, with safety on the streets,” she said. “One thing I'm starting to learn from reporting on public safety is that you can present numbers to people all day long, and the numbers just don't speak to people the way stories do. “

The perception of crime does not always correspond to reality. Kena Netancur/AFP via Getty Images .

switch captionKena Netancur/AFP via Getty Images

In Baltimore, a city that has struggled with the perception of being unsafe, it's a similar story.

Lee Sanderlin is an enterprise reporter at the Baltimore Banner and says there are pockets of violent crime, but that's not the case across the city.

“It’s a battle that city leaders have had to fight with some of the media, with residents,” Sanderlin said. “People who don’t live in Baltimore, who live in Baltimore County or neighboring counties, certainly have a perception.”

Untangling the reasons

Asher, the crime analyst, says there's no single reason why violent crime is decreasing.

“This is a really difficult question to answer, and I always caveat my answer with [saying that] “Criminologists still don’t know why violent crime declined in the 1990s,” he said. “We can kind of point out what some of the ingredients probably are, even if we can't take the cake and tell you what the exact recipe is.”

For cities like San Francisco, Baltimore, and Minneapolis, different factors may come into play. And in some cases, this also happens when the number of police officers decreases.

The Baltimore Police Department consistently falls short of its recruiting goal, and as of last September it had more than 750 vacant positions, according to a state audit report.

“Our new police commissioner has been pretty open about the fact … that even though they want to hire more officers, they have to get the job done with the people they have,” Sanderlin said.

In Minneapolis, police numbers have plummeted. According to the Star Tribune, there are about 560 active officers, up from nearly 900 in 2019. Mannix said the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 led to an unprecedented exodus from the department.

He said the juxtaposition of falling crime at the same time as police numbers were falling was “very confusing to a lot of people.”

“The reality is there are a lot of factors that go into crime,” he said. “It's not just the number of police officers that matters. It's certainly a variable.”

In Minneapolis, the city is devoting more financial resources to non-traditional policing initiatives. The Department of Neighborhood Safety, which addresses violence through a public health lens, received $22 million in the 2024 budget.

In San Francisco, police say they have been more effective in making arrests.

Meanwhile, Sanderlin said Baltimore voted for a new district attorney who pledged to be tougher on crime; police say they target hotspots of violence; and the mayor's office connects potential offenders with housing and employment assistance.

“Put all of that into the blender with an overall better economy, more and more people are sort of returning to a pre-pandemic way of life, and that probably has something to do with it,” Sanderlin said.

But changing the vision of crime means playing the game in the long term, he added.

“Crime affects people in very personal ways. The only way to get people to change their perceptions on a macro scale is through continued progress.”




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