FBI to reveal likely murder spike on same day as first presidential debate

September 13th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

The FBI’s national crime data for 2015 – which is expected to show a substantial overall increase in murders – will be released on the morning of the first presidential debate, likely providing a dramatic new talking point for Donald Trump.

For months, Trump has been pointing, ominously, to rising violence in Chicago and other cities, and arguing that Americans are at risk and that Democrats have failed black Americans in particular.

How large the nationwide murder increase might be for all of 2015 is still unclear, but some estimates would make the increase the largest since 1990, or even 1968.

Whatever the precise nationwide increase is, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld said, it will almost certainly be “a much larger rise in homicide than we’ve seen in many, many years”.

Trump, who has branded himself the “law and order candidate”, pledged in his July speech at the Republican national convention that “the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end.”

“Inner-city crime is reaching record levels,” he tweeted in late August. “African Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!”

Barack Obama and other Democrats have pushed back that overall crime and murder fell to historic lows during Obama’s presidency, and that the troubling murder increase has been concentrated in just a few cities.

Murders increased nearly 17% across the nation’s 56 largest cities in 2015, Rosenfeld found in a justice department-funded study published in June. The increase was “real and nearly unprecedented”, Rosenfeld concluded.

Rosenfeld’s study found the murder increase was mostly driven by an even smaller number of cities – just 10 – including Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington DC. Other cities, including New York and Los Angeles, continue to see murder numbers at or close to historic lows.

Even with a sharp national uptick in murders in 2015, violence in the US will still be at historic lows. The country is dramatically safer than it was in the early 1990s, when close to 25,000 Americans were murdered every year. In recent years, even as the population has grown, the number of murders has fallen to close to 14,000 a year. 

While the steepest decrease in violence came in the late 1990s, murders have continued to fall during Obama’s two terms, according to FBI data, with more than 2,000 fewer Americans murdered in 2014 than they were in 2008, the year before Obama took office.

An uptick in murders in the nation’s 30 largest cities was not accompanied by spikes in overall crime or violent crime, a preliminary analysis of crime data by the Brennan Center concluded.

Rosenfeld projected that 2015’s national increase could be as high as 13% – a very rough estimate, he said – while Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, projected that the increase might be between 6% and 12%.

If nationwide murders rose 6% over all of 2015, that would be the greatest single-year percentage increase since 1990, according to FBI murder data. If murders rose 13%, that would be the largest percentage increase in murders in the last half-century, larger even than 1968, when murders rose 12.75%.

But overall murders would have to spike 73%, not 6%, to actually put the US back at the record-breaking murder totals of the early 1990s.

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