Crime Is “Not Out of Control” Versus Record Homicides, Fear and Gun Purchases. Who’s Right?



Violent Crime Increased in 2015.

Crime has taken on a political context in the presidential election. Is that framework is affecting objective analysis and reporting?

“Yes, you are suffering, proponents of the “crime is not out of control” message seem to state, but you shouldn’t be because crime is at historic lows.


Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.


Most of the data referenced in this article is available from Crime in America at

Brennan Center Synopsis

Overall crime rates in 2016 are projected to be nearly the same as last year, with crime remaining at an all-time low, according to a new Brennan Center analysis.

The report — released in the Center’s “Election 2016 Controversies” series — presents data from the 30 largest cities in the United States analyzed by a team of economics and policy researchers.

The findings undercut media reports referring to crime as “out of control…”


Crime has taken on a political context in the presidential election. Is that framework is affecting objective analysis and reporting?

For the record, the candidacies of Clinton and Trump are of little relevance when it comes to understanding crime and its impact on the American people. You may fervently hold their statements dear, but it’s obvious that neither is fairly engaging the issue, and they have little chance to impact crime (principally a state and local issue) or the social conditions associated with it.

Now that we extricate ourselves from the morass of politics, we can start asking some fair questions.

The Brennan Center is not the only organization that, while acknowledging the fact that crime is increasing is “some” cities, suggests that it really doesn’t count because crime in America remains at an all-time low.

Really Brennan Center? Isn’t that like stating that your daughter was raped but don’t worry, crime remains at an all-time low? At what point does your reporting insult the realities of victims of crime or the views of the American public?

What We Know About the Crime Increase in 2015

Crime in 2015-FBI

After 2 years of decline, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased 3.9 percent in 2015 when compared with 2014 data, according to FBI figures. Property crimes dropped 2.6 percent, marking the thirteenth straight year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The violent crime rate rose 3.1 percent compared with the 2014 rate, and the property crime rate declined 3.4 percent.

56 Cities

According to recent US Department of Justice funded data measuring murders in 56 cities, “…the homicide rise in 2015 in the nation’s large cities was real and, while not unprecedented, comparatively large. The average homicide increase over 2014 in the top ten was 33.3 percent, compared with a 16.8-percent rise for the sample as a whole.”

One-year increases of this magnitude in the nation’s large cities, although not unknown, are very rare.” US Department of Justice funded research.

29 Cities

The murder total in 29 large U.S. cities rose during the first six months of the year, says the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Wall Street Journal reports. Homicides jumped 15 percent in the 51 large cities that submitted crime data, compared with the same year-ago period. More than half that increase was driven by spikes in two cities: Chicago, which has struggled with rising gang violence, and Orlando, where Omar Mateen fatally shot 49 people at a nightclub. A continuing increase in some cities worries officials who had been hoping last year’s surge was an aberration in the decades-long decline in the murder rate. After peaking in the early 1990s, rates of reported violent crime have been at their lowest levels in four decades, according to FBI data. Wall Street Journal

 25 Cities

Murder totals rose significantly in 25 of the nation’s 100 largest cities last year, says a New York Times analysis of new data compiled from police departments. The findings confirm a trend reported in a National Institute of Justice study. “The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,” wrote criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis who looked at homicide data in 56 large cities.

The Times said half of the increase came from just seven cities: Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. Chicago had the most homicides — 488 in 2015 — far more than the 352 in New York City, which has three times as many people. Baltimore had the largest increase — 133 more than 2014 — and the second-highest rate in 2015, after St. Louis, which had 59 homicides per 100,000 residents. The number of cities where totals rose significantly was the largest since the height of violent crime in the early 1990s. New York Times

Crime Reported to Law Enforcement-FBI Data

Violent crime increased in 2015, which was very predictable. There were media reports in multiple cities in 2015 that homicides and violent crime were increasing.

Those media reports of increases in many (not all) cities continue for 2016.

Aggravated assault and rapes increased in 2014 while overall violent crime remained flat (tiny decrease) compared to 2013. The FBI states that the decrease in violent crime went from 4.6 percent in the first six months of 2014 to 1.2 percent for all of 2014. It led some (including this site) to suggest that violent crime was increasing.

Criminologists and criminal justice specialists were puzzled by the continuing decreases in crime in the past and offered little in terms of an explanation, but some are now expressing concern regarding full FBI data in 2014 and 2015.

We predict that violent crime will continue to increase throughout 2016.

Fear of Crime

We note that Americans’ level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years, says a new Gallup survey. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry “a great deal” about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. Gallup said the figure is the highest the firm has measured since March 2001.

Police Shootings and Disturbances

Police shootings and associated riots have the nation on edge and it’s almost impossible to measure their impact, but there is a suspicion that they will affect any measurement as to fear of crime.

Media Coverage and Crime

Crime is one of the top issues covered by local media per a variety of reports. The media is a profit driven entity that has no interest in delivering stories lacking relevance to its readers/viewers/listeners.

Gun Purchases

 “Those gun crime rates certainly aren’t diminishing for lack of supply…at least not for law-abiding legal buyers. Last December, the FBI recorded a record number of 2.78 million background checks for purchases that month, surpassing a 2.01 million mark set the month before by about 39 percent. That December 2012 figure, in turn, was up 49 percent from a previous record on that month the year before. FBI checks for all of 2012 totaled 19.6 million, an annual record, and an increase of 19 percent over 2011.” Forbes. Gun purchases are continuing at record levels per additional media sources.

Our Analysis

We understand what the Brennan Center and a multitude of others are saying about violent crime; it “is” at historic lows.

Violent and property crime are at record lows for the country and, generally speaking, have been decreasing for the last two decades except for recent years (2011, 2012 and 2015 as examples). There have been additional increases since 1990-the rate of violent crime in the US increased in 2005 and 2006-but returned to decreases in 2007.

But crime (or select crimes) has been increasing since 2014 and homicides are rising at nearly record levels in some (not all) cities.

Levels of homicides have always been associated with measures of violent crime and crime in general. When one goes up, they all go up over time. “One-year increases of this magnitude (homicides) in the nation’s large cities, although not unknown, are very rare.” US Department of Justice report.

Fear of crime is at record levels.

Gun purchases are at record levels.

Media reporting of crime is a top category.

If homicides, fear of crime, media coverage of crime and gun purchases are increasing or at record levels, what is the proper reaction to those stating that, “These findings undercut media reports referring to crime as “out of control,” or heralding a new nationwide crime wave.” (Brennan Center).

With such stark contrasts, it suggests that someone is clueless to what‘s happening to the American people.

“Yes, you are suffering, proponents of the “crime is not out of control” message seem to state, but you shouldn’t be because crime is at historic lows.

And while they are technically correct, that missive seems to be dismissed by millions of Americans watching media crime coverage, stating record amounts of fear while contemplating gun purchases.

It’s not politics. It’s merely acknowledging the concerns of the American people, who also understand that both candidates have little chance of impacting crime rates or making their lives safer.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law at

Forbes article on gun purchases at

Crime in America at

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