America’s murder rate surged in 2020 and crept even higher in 2021. But yesterday, the FBI released its official estimates for 2022—and it looks like things are cooling off, as preliminary data suggested earlier this year.
Last year, 6.3 per 100,000 Americans were murdered, down from 6.8 in 2021 and 6.5 in 2020.
But 2022’s rate is still far above pre-pandemic numbers. America reached a low of 4.4 murders per 100,000 population in 2014 (the year of Ferguson), saw a mild-in-retrospect peak of 5.4 in 2016, and returned to rates of about 5 per 100,000 in 2018 and 2019. Before 2020, the last time we had a rate of 6.3 was in 1998—which, to be fair, was down about a third from the five years prior.
Fortunately, more recent data from big cities suggests that the decline will continue this year as well.
The FBI’s data drop contains much else of interest. The overall violent-crime rate, made up mostly of aggravated assaults, fell from 399 to 381 per 100,000 between 2020 and 2022. Robbery, which did not rise in 2020 (presumably owing to the lockdowns reducing opportunity), remained near its low point despite a very slight uptick. It’s down about 40 percent over the past ten years and three-quarters since the early 1990s.
The news is more alarming for property crimes. After falling almost continuously for 30 years, the property crime rate rose 7 percent, from 1,830 to 1,954 per 100,000. That primarily reflects a rise in larceny/theft, boosted (no pun intended) by an ongoing increase in motor-vehicle thefts, which have risen in the past few years, largely thanks to security weaknesses in certain Kias and Hyundais.
The new data also represent a return to form for the FBI’s statistical abilities. Last year’s data were marred by the failure of many police departments to report crimes in a new, more detailed format. This time, the FBI allowed the submission of data under the previous format, as well, for agencies that still hadn’t gotten around to updating. As a result, the new numbers are far more reliable—the national estimates cover about 94 percent of the population, versus less than two-thirds of the population in 2021—though, despite the missing departments, last year’s murder rate jibed well with alternative estimates based on death certificates from the CDC.
Homicides surged in 2020 against a backdrop of George Floyd’s murder, an ongoing pandemic, and intensifying chants of “defund the police.” Those dynamics were bound to peter out eventually. Unfortunately, that’s a process that can take years.
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