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Murder Rates Are Dropping Despite GOP ‘Crime Wave’ Rhetoric

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All violent crimes are tragic, but there’s not a national crime wave underway.
Photo: RYAN COLLERD/AFP via Getty Images

To hear the latest version of Donald Trump’s “American carnage” narrative of a country lost without him, you would think law-abiding citizens are cowering in their homes or stockpiling weapons to deal with a massive crime wave fed by illegal border crossings caused by various nations emptying their prisons and leftist “Soros-funded” prosecutors gleefully opening our own penitentiaries. The idea of an ongoing crime wave is incorporated into all sorts of MAGA rhetoric, including claims that prosecutors pursuing cases against Trump in New York, Atlanta, Florida, and Washington, D.C., should instead be frantically trying and jailing predators who are cavorting on the streets.

The alleged threat of murderous “animals” who entered the country illegally has been crystalized by Republican agitprop about the tragic death of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley, who was murdered while jogging, allegedly by an undocumented Venezuelan migrant. But graphic and horrifying anecdotal evidence does not an actual crime wave make. And the more we learn about what’s actually happening in our major cities, the clearer it is that the surge in violent crime that did occur during the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to subside.

The COVID crime surge largely ended in 2022; then the incidence of murder and other violent crimes dropped significantly in 2023, according to preliminary federal data, as CNN recently reported:

Murder, other kinds of reported violent crime and reported property crime all dropped in 2023, according to preliminary statistics published by the FBI. Crime data expert Jeff Asher says that, if confirmed by final data, the roughly 13% decline in murder would be the single biggest one-year drop on record in U.S. data dating back to 1960, while the roughly 6% decline in reported violent crime would be one of the biggest on record; reported violent crime declined in every quadrant of the country, in cities of all sizes and in rural communities. 

Now, as The Wall Street Journal reports, Asher is back with early 2024 data on murder that shows an acceleration of the downward trend even as Trump and other Republican politicians continue to sound the alarm over specific cases like Riley’s:

Homicides in American cities are falling at the fastest pace in decades, bringing them close to levels they were at before a pandemic-era jump.

Nationwide, homicides dropped around 20% in 133 cities from the beginning of the year through the end of March compared with the same period in 2023, according to crime-data analyst Jeff Asher, who tabulated statistics from police departments across the country.

Philadelphia saw a 35% drop in killings as of April 12 compared with the same period last year, police data show. In New York City, homicides fell 15% through April 7. Homicides in Columbus, Ohio, plunged 58% through April 7.

We’ve been here before:

“There’s just a ton of places that you can point to that are showing widespread, very positive trends,” said Asher, co-founder of criminal justice consulting firm AH Datalytics. “Nationally, you’re seeing a very similar situation to what you saw in the mid-to-late ’90s.”

That’s when a long upward trend in crime during the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s — a true crime wave — finally came to an end, then dramatically reversed. The current numbers are beginning to show that we’re more than likely in a long period of stable (and, by past standards, relatively low) crime rates that were briefly interrupted by the many dislocations in American life (and police effectiveness) of the pandemic. So the myth of a deadly threat to Americans stemming from liberal policies on the border and in the justice system is mostly just that.

Perceptions of public safety, of course, aren’t always in line with objective reality, and violent crime is horrifying even if it’s not as prevalent as law-and-order demagogues suggest. An October 2023 Gallup survey that coincided with growing evidence of dropping crime rates showed 77 percent of Americans agreed there was “more crime” in the country than in the previous year. Will public opinion catch up with the facts before it becomes part of a successful indictment of the Biden administration in November? That’s not at all clear, but Democrats trying to make the case that the economy is improving faster than many voters realize should take a moment to point to positive trends on crime while they’re at it.


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