News and notes on guns in America

Despite Attorney General’s Claims, Violent Crime Is Tracking Downward in 2017

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that “violent crime is up in many places in the country,” especially in Baltimore, where he delivered his speech. Sessions linked the surge to illegal immigration and transnational gangs, like MS-13.

But a new set of projections released by New York University’s left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice suggests that while Baltimore, Charlotte, North Carolina, and a handful of other places were more dangerous in 2017, violent crime and homicides actually fell in most of the country’s 30 largest cities this year.

Overall, the Brennan Center says the increase in violent crime observed in 2015 and 2016 has leveled off. Its figures show the murder rate fell by 5.6 percent and total murders fell by 4.4 percent.

The decline, according to researchers, was driven by large reductions in violence in Detroit and Chicago. While both cities still have higher-than-average rates of violent crime, especially shootings, their 2017 levels are significantly below recent peaks.

The Brennan Center’s midyear projections, released in September, were heavily criticized by Jeff Asher, a crime analyst who took issue with the report’s methodology and data sources. For instance, the Brennan Center’s researchers used data directly from the Detroit Police Department rather than the city’s open data website, which Asher said showed out-of-date crime statistics. Asher has since spoken with the Brennan Center’s experts, who addressed some of his concerns. 

“I’m not sure I’ll have any major issues this time around,” Asher said on Tuesday, before reviewing the end-of-year results. He said his own projection of a 3.5 percent decline in total murders, based on data from 73 cities, 55 of which provide fuller data, is roughly in line with the Brennan Center’s.

Murder slowed down considerably over the second half of the year, which is the opposite of what has happened the last few years,” Asher added in a tweet about the updated Brennan Center’s projections.

While violent crime was projected to have fallen throughout most of the country, certain communities did see a spike this year. Memphis and Baltimore both had double-digit percent increases in the violent crime rate. Charlotte saw the murder rate increase by more than 50 percent.

But that doesn’t mean Sessions’ characterization of Baltimore or violent crime in general nationwide is correct, said the report’s co-author Ames Grawart.

“He tends to paint with a broad brush,” Grawart said. While MS-13-related killings generate headlines because they tend to be so lurid and often have young, vulnerable victims, Grawart said, “there is no evidence immigration increases crime.”

Forthcoming research will point to a different factor, he added: “It’s easier to assign causality for crime rates to the ease of trafficking guns rather than any particular gangs.”