The latest batch of nationwide FBI crime data, released Monday, shows that in 2014, violent crime in the U.S. continued its long decline. The murder rate was down. The robbery rate was down, too.
"The story is actually better than we all anticipated it would be," says John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center. "Violence is down a little bit. Property crime is down a lot… and all of this suggests that crime in America is continuing to move in the right direction.”
Earlier this month, I joined a number of fact-checkers in pointing out that a breathless New York Times story, "Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities," was misleading. The 30 cities cited by the Times weren't randomly selected; rather, they appeared to suggest their own selection because they were cities that had experienced a recent rise in killings.
That the Times got that story wrong mattered because it appeared right in the middle of a debate over the existence of a so-called “Ferguson Effect”—the (false) idea that the Black Lives Matter movement has somehow been emboldening criminals. But a Vera Institute of Justice senior research fellow looked at the most recent homicide data from 16 of the 20 most populous U.S. cities, and found that just three showed a statistically significant increase. And homicide rates often fluctuate; in recent years, Chicago's has moved both up and down, pointing to no real trend at all.
The FBI’s data did show an increase in aggravated assaults and an increase in rape cases. And the data only goes through the end of 2014, so it’s certainly possible that 2015 numbers will eventually show a somewhat different story. This is, as my Atlantic colleague Matt Ford points out, one of the key limitations of FBI data: you have to wait an awfully long time to get the bigger picture. Still, overall, there was no violent crime epidemic, at least not last year. In fact, it was the least violent year in decades.
Violence is still far too much of a threat to human life and well-being in too many U.S. communities. But we're moving in the right direction. And there is just zero evidence pointing to anything resembling a Ferguson “effect.”