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Are News Media To Blame For Perception Crime Is Rising?

In 2020, the U.S. experienced one of its most dangerous years in decades as the murder total surged by nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020. The overall violent crime rate, which includes murder, assault, robbery and rape, inched up around 5%.

In 2023, crime trends looked very different. "At some point in 2022 — at the end of 2022 or through 2023 — there was just a tipping point where violence started to fall and it just continued to fall," said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics, reports NPR.

Asher says, "We have data from over 200 cities showing a 12.2% [murder] decline ... in 2023 relative to 2022., Reported instances of rape, robbery and aggravated assault were all down too.

Yet when you ask people about crime, the perception is it's getting a lot worse.

A Gallup poll in November found 77% of Americans believed there was more crime than the year before. Some 63% believed there was either a "very" or "extremely" serious crime problem — the highest in the poll's history going back to 2000.

Asher says that what you see depends a lot on what you're looking at.

"There's never been a news story that said, 'There were no robberies yesterday, nobody really shoplifted at Walgreens,'" he said.

There are some outliers. Murder totals are up in Washington, D.C., Memphis and Seattle, for example — and some nonviolent crimes like car theft are up in certain cities. But the national trend on violence is clear.

NPR spoke to three local reporters — from Baltimore, San Francisco and Minneapolis — to better understand what is happening in their communities.

"We've seen two years now of crime incrementally going down, which I think is enough to say there's a positive trend there," said Andy Mannix, a crime and policing reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Rachel Swan of the San Francisco Chronicle, says there are "two really visible crises" in the downtown area: homelessness and open-air drug use. "And honestly, people conflate that with crime, with street safety," she said. "One thing I'm starting to learn in reporting on public safety is that you can put numbers in front of people all day, and numbers just don't speak to people the way narrative does."

Lee Sanderlin of The Baltimore Banner and says there are pockets of violent crime — but that's not the case for the entire city.

"That's a battle that the city's leaders have had to fight with certain media outlets, with residents," Sanderlin said. "People who don't live in Baltimore, who live out in Baltimore County or neighboring counties, they certainly have a perception."


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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