US mur­der rate on track for a big drop in 2018

The Beaufort Gazette - - News - BY JEFF ASHER

The mur­der rate in the United States in 2018 is on track for the largest oneyear drop in five years.

The num­bers are not fi­nal, and the FBI will not for­mally re­port 2018’s mur­der fig­ures un­til Septem­ber 2019.

But based on a com­par­i­son of 2017 data and 2018 data for 66 large Amer­i­can cities ( pop­u­la­tion over 250,000), we can ob­serve the trend as it is oc­cur­ring and of­fer a rea­son­able fore­cast.

Mur­der rose 23 per­cent na­tion­ally be­tween 2014 and 2016 be­fore lev­el­ing off in 2017. Ma­jor in­creases in mur­der in Chicago and Bal­ti­more re­ceived much of the na­tional at­ten­tion, but the in­crease oc­curred through­out the coun­try.

In the cities in which data is avail­able, mur­der has been down about 7 per­cent on av­er­age this year rel­a­tive to the same point in 2017.

Es­ti­mat­ing na­tional trends from a sam­ple of cities can be tricky be­cause big cities tend to over­state na­tional trends. If mur­der is up sub­stan­tially in big cities, you can typ­i­cally ex­pect that the na­tional mur­der rate is also up, but a lit­tle less so. And if mur­der is sub­stan­tially down in big cities, you can usu­ally ex­pect a smaller drop na­tion­ally.

The Bren­nan Cen­ter in 2017, for ex­am­ple, found a 4.4 per­cent de­cline in 29 large cities for which data was avail­able. Yet the FBI’s na­tional mur­der count was essen­tially un­changed in 2017 rel­a­tive to 2016. (It was of­fi­cially down 0.7 per­cent, but that was be­cause the FBI re­vised 2016’s mur­der to­tal up­ward, to 17,284 from 17,250.)

The sam­ple of cities we are us­ing in this ar­ti­cle ac­cu­rately pre­dicted the move­ment of the na­tional mur­der change every year but 2002, when mur­der was down 1.4 per­cent in the big cities but up 1.1 per­cent na­tion­ally. On av­er­age, the sam­ple of cities over­stated the na­tional trend by 2.4 per­cent­age points.

If these big cities end the year down about 7 per­cent from 2017, and if big cities tend to over­state the na­tional trend by about 2.4 per­cent­age points on av­er­age, mur­der should be down by around 4 per­cent to 5 per­cent na­tion­ally this year.

So far this year, mur­der in Chicago is down 17 per­cent in 2018 rel­a­tive to 2017, ac­count­ing for about a third of the drop in the sam­ple. Mur­der is also down sub­stan­tially in cities like Bal­ti­more; Char­lotte, North Carolina; Louisville, Ken­tucky.; and Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, which all ex­pe­ri­enced large rises in mur­der from 2014 to 2016/2017.

The mur­der rate in Las Ve­gas is roughly even this year, ac­cord­ing to the Las Ve­gas Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice De­part­ment, although this does not count the mass shoot­ing out­side Man­dalay Bay in 2017 that left nearly 60 peo­ple dead.


In­clud­ing those num­bers – as the FBI did in 2017 – would in­crease the drop in mur­der in the sam­ple of cities by about a per­cent­age point.

It is usu­ally bet­ter to take a longer view in as­sess­ing mur­der trends. Far fewer peo­ple are mur­dered each year in the United States rel­a­tive to the 1980s and 1990s. But mur­der re­mains up rel­a­tive to just a few years ago.

If mur­der falls about 4.5 per­cent na­tion­ally this year, the mur­der rate of about 5 per 100,000 will roughly be in line with 2009’s rate and half of what it was in 1980, the high­est U.S. mur­der rate on record.

Track­ing the change in mur­der na­tion­ally is far eas­ier than ex­plain­ing why it is hap­pen­ing. There is still no con­sen­sus on why mur­der rose na­tion­ally in 2015 and 2016, though var­i­ous the­o­ries have been pro­posed, in­clud­ing sim­ple ran­dom­ness. Sim­i­larly, a pro­jected drop in mur­der in 2018 would not have an ob­vi­ous cause.

What’s more clear is that the coun­try is mov­ing to­ward the largest na­tional drop in mur­der since a 3.6 per­cent de­cline in 2013.

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