Policymakers, police and the public were alarmed earlier this year when FBI data indicated that violent crime had risen in 2016 for the second year in a row. But just-released evidence paints a more optimistic picture.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey gathers data from a nationally representative sample of Americans each year. Because FBI data does not include crimes that are never reported to the police, directly surveying victims offers a different perspective on crime. The victimization survey was redesigned in 2016 with the addition of new counties, participants and interviewers but can still be used to detect trends over time, because it breaks out data from those counties that were included in both the 2015 and 2016 surveys.
The violent crimes measured in the survey comprise rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault. From 2015 to 2016, the victimization rate per 1,000 people for those crimes rose slightly from 18.7 to 19.5, and the rate for serious violent crimes (i.e., excluding simple assault) dropped slightly from 7.3 to 6.8. Neither of these changes is statistically significant, suggesting that violent crime did not spike as feared in 2016. The report also noted that the rate of violent victimization remains low by historical standards, having dropped by about one third over the past decade.
None of this means that Americans should be complacent about violent crime. Certain cities — Baltimore, for example — are experiencing rising and horrific violence. But on the whole, violent crime in the United States remains stable and is lower in absolute terms than it has been in many years.