Skip to main content
Menu
The U.S. Murder Rate Is Up But Still Far Below Its 1980 Peak

The number of murders rose 8.6 percent nationwide in 2016, according to the FBI’s newest round of crime statistics, released Monday. There were an estimated 17,250 murders1 last year, up from 15,883 in 2015. The murder rate also rose for a second straight year, but it’s still roughly where it was in 2008, far below the levels of the 1980s and early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of murders committed with a firearm rose to a record high.2

The findings are from the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Reporting program, which gives the first official data on last year’s national crime trends. The UCR shows the number of murders increasing nationally for the second straight year in 2016. But the other crimes measured by UCR did not change nearly as much: The number of of violent crimes overall (which includes murders) rose 4.1 percent from 2015 to 2016, and the number of property crimes, such as burglary, fell 1.3 percent, to a low not seen in more than 40 years.3

The uptick in murders in 20164 comes on the heels of a double-digit percentage increase in 2015 that was the largest jump in a quarter-century. That said, the nation’s overall murder rate in 2016 was 5.3 per 100,000 people, 48 percent below its peak, in 1980.

Early indications from roughly the middle of 2017 show the number of murders up a few percentage points in big cities; that could mean — based on how cities and the nation overall typically compare — either a small increase or a small drop nationally this year, although it’s too early to say for sure.

Murder rate per 100,000 people

Just over half of murders5 were committed with a firearm in 1961 — the earliest year for which the FBI has data. By 1990, that share was nearly 65 percent. And for the next 24 years, the figure remained somewhere between 63 percent and 70 percent, even as the annual number of murders peaked nationally in the early 1990s. In 2015, the share of firearm murders rose above 70 percent for the first time, and in 2016, that figure rose again, to 73 percent, the highest rate of murders by firearm on record.

Other crimes

Overall, the total number of major crimes in the seven categories that the FBI tracks fell 0.6 percent in 2016, compared with 2015, mostly because of a 1.5 percent drop in thefts and a 4.6 percent drop in burglaries.6 The remaining categories — rape, robbery, assault and auto theft — all saw an increase of between 1 percent and 8 percent.

But compared with 25 years ago, the rates of all seven major crime categories were significantly lower:

CHANGE IN INCIDENTS PER 100,000 PEOPLE
2015 TO 2016 1991 TO 2016
Violent crime Murder +7.9% -45.5%
Rape +4.2 -30.0
Robbery +0.5 -62.3
Assault +4.4 -42.7
Property crime Burglary -5.2 -62.6
Theft -2.2 -46.0
Auto theft +6.6 -64.1

The number of narcotics-related arrests7 rose slightly — 5.6 percent — in 2016. However, they have fallen 16.8 percent since peaking at nearly 1.9 million in 2006.

Drug enforcement came down sharply in President Obama’s first term before largely leveling off at around 1.5 million arrests per year in his second. We’ll have to wait another year to see whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s anti-marijuana stance will affect the national drug arrest trend.

CORRECTION (Sept. 25, 11:55 a.m.): An earlier version of the first chart in this article incorrectly labeled 2014 as 2015. The chart has been updated.

Footnotes

  1. As we wrote the last time we reported on this data: The FBI estimates national crime figures for agencies submitting less than a full year of data. Murder in this article is synonymous with “criminal homicide,” which the FBI defines as “the willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another. Deaths caused by negligence, attempts to kill, assaults to kill, suicides, and accidental deaths are excluded.” This figure includes nonnegligent manslaughter.

  2. The FBI began collecting crime data from cities in 1930. National crime statistics have been available since 1960.

  3. The UCR Part I program measures seven types of major crimes divided into two categories: violent and property crimes. Violent crimes consist of criminal homicide, assault, robbery and rape. Property crimes consist of theft, auto theft and burglary.

  4. FWIW: The 8.6 percent increase is consistent with the roughly 8 percent increase estimated in my earlier review of murder in 73 big cities.

  5. The total number of murders listed by the FBI in this part of its analysis (how killings were committed) is slightly lower than 17,250 because supplemental details were not available for all cases.

  6. Those two crime types account for roughly 80 percent of all UCR Part I crimes, so overall crime tends to rise when they rise and fall when they fall.

  7. Narcotics arrests includes arrests, citations and summonses for narcotics violations.

Jeff Asher is a crime analyst based in New Orleans and used to work for the city as a crime analyst. He runs the NOLA Crime News data analysis blog.

Comments