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New York Times: Be Careful to Read Too Much into FBI Crime Report

police lightsBy Editorial Board
New York Times

Over the last several decades, whenever there has been a reported increase in violent crime numbers, there have been people eager to seize on the statistics and argue, as the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has, that crime is “out of control.”

The opportunity arose again on Monday, when the F.B.I. released its annual snapshot of crime nationwide in 2015, showing that there was a 10.8 percent increase in the number of murders and nonnegligent manslaughter cases over 2014. The number of violent crimes — which the report defines as murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and assault — was up almost 4 percent, while the number of property crimes, such as burglary and larceny, was down 2.6 percent.

These are troubling figures, and they demand a level-headed, targeted response. But any single data point must be considered against the broader trend of declining crime rates: In fact, 2015 was the thirdsafest year in more than four decades. And the number of violent crimes was 16.5 percent below the 2006 level.

The surge in killings was fueled by street violence in a handful of major cities. While murder rates rose significantly in 25 of the 100 largest cities in 2015, an analysis by The Timesfound that half of the increase in killings in big cities came from just seven — Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Nashville and Washington — where most of the victims were young African-American males. Guns were used in nearly three-quarters of the 15,696 homicides in 2015.

Unfortunately, the debate over how best to fight crime is always a combustible one, so even relatively small changes in crime rates can lead to big and often destructive changes in law and policy, like mandatory-minimum prison sentences or stop-and-frisk policing. In the name of greater public safety, policies like these have done immense damage to minority communities around the country, and particularly to the young black and Latino men who have borne their brunt, even as evidence shows that they do little if anything to reduce crime.

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