At this point, it makes no difference what the numbers say. While some would say crime is increasing, others will show you data that indicates that it is not.
If you say crime is down, others will suggest that this is simply a product of chiefs and sheriffs cooking the books, due to political pressure, to paint a rosy picture.
One person who thinks crime is out of control is U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I wish the rise that we are seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip,” Sessions said. “My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous, permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”
But people who study crime numbers for a living disagree with Sessions’ opinion.
A quick look at the recent crime data reported by the nation’s 30 largest cities released by the Brennan Center for Justice indicate that crime is down. Researchers say that 2017 is likely to have the second-lowest violent crime rate of any year since 1990.
There was a blip or an aberration for violent crime and murder during 2015 and 2016. But researchers say that’s largely due to spikes in just two cities—Baltimore and Chicago.
Inimai Chettiar is the director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
She says the numbers paint a pretty clear picture of what’s happening. How people use those numbers to serve various agendas is something else entirely.
“First, the long-term trend toward safer cities isn’t going anywhere,” Chettiar told Washington Post reporters. “The evidence conclusively shows there is currently no national crime wave. Second, short-term fluctuations in crime are often driven by local factors.”
Basically there are two ways to look at statistics for things like homicide and other violent crime—short term and long term.
If a small city has no murders one year but four the next, people will be talking about the 400-percent increase in homicides.
For some this would be a “blip,” and for others it might seem like the beginning of a dangerous trend.
Ronal Serpas, a former New Orleans Police superintendent who now co-chairs an organization focused on reducing incarceration rates, says the Brennan Center’s numbers reflect an accurate analysis of data, while the “Crime is out of control!” talk is mostly politics.
“In contrast to what we have been hearing from the president and attorney general, this new data from police departments shows that all measures of crime and murder are in decline this year,” Serpas said in a statement. “It’s irresponsible to incite public panic based on falsehoods, and it makes our police officers’ jobs harder.”