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New FBI data shows continued decline in crime rates in most areas

Each year, the FBI releases its Uniform Crime Reports for the previous year, which are based on data provided by local law enforcement agencies. These reports give us crucial information about what types of crimes, and how many, have been reported to police. Similar reports are issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which gauge how many crimes were actually committed, even if they weren't reported. These are the two main sources used to determine America's crime rate.

The crime rate is important in criminal justice because a high rate of crime, especially violent crime, is often used rhetorically to call for tougher laws, increased enforcement and harsher penalties for criminal defendants. Yet these "tough on crime" initiatives have arguably contributed to our nation's mass incarceration crisis and other problems. Therefore, it's crucial for citizens to have an accurate sense of how much crime we experience in the U.S.

We live in an era of unprecedented safety and declining crime. Crime rates vary from city to city but, taken as a nationwide average, the crime rate was quite low in 2017 and continues to drop from a peak in the early 1990s. The last time crime rates were this low was 1967.

Since 1991:

  • Property crime is down 54 percent
  • Violent crime is down 46.5 percent
  • Homicide is down 45.9 percent

Since 2016:

  • Property crime declined by 3.6 percent
  • Violent crime dropped by 1 percent
  • Homicides were down by 1.9 percent

The Vera Institute of Justice dug into the data at the city level, considering 285 municipalities with populations of 100,000 or more. Here are some of their findings:

Property crime: Theft and other property offenses continued a decline that started in the late 1980s. There was variation from city to city, but far more cities experienced a decrease or a minimal change than experienced an increase.

Violent crime: Small, medium and very large cities saw a slight decline in violent crime in 2017, although large cities saw a modest increase. However, far more cities saw decreases than increases and, on average, violent crime was at or near its lowest level in over 30 years.

Homicide: In small and large cities, homicide rates were slightly higher last year, but they were slightly lower in medium and very large cities. The number of cities seeing a decrease far outweighed those seeing increases, however, and the homicide rate was at or near its lowest level in over 30 years.

America continues to see declines in crime in most cities and, on average, nationwide. These declines have been in motion for several decades, leaving us at the lowest crime rate in more than a generation.

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