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Why 'Nobody Knows' Whether Crime Is Rising or Falling

Crime is on the political agenda in a big way, with Republicans zeroing in on it as their favorite topic now that gasoline prices are moderating. Is crime rising? The shocking answer is — nobody knows, Bloomberg reports. The state of information on crime and policing is incredibly poor. The Brennan Center for Justice says that more than six months into 2022, national-level data on crime in 2021 remains unavailable. In large cities, the murder total rose in 2021. It’s also likely that there was an overall increase in shootings and violent assaults. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. It is clear there was a very large increase in murder in 2020. The rise took place across the board — murders rose 20 percent in rural counties and 20 percent in suburban ones, so whatever went wrong can’t be pinned entirely on Democratic mayors or big-city politics.


Murder is running at a pace about 3.5 percent lower this year than last year. The dearth of information leaves the political arena open for manipulation by demagogues. Because nobody actually knows in real time what’s happening, anecdotes can just stand in for made-up fears. Since the real murder surge of 2020 now has people primed to believe “crime is out of control” narratives, any particular instance of violence can be used to support that story. Republicans who are stoking fears of rising crime right now appear to be mistaken. The lack of information about geographical patterns in murder trends means no one has much ability to assess what social or policy factors may be in play. Collecting this information in a timely manner shouldn’t be that difficult. Police departments know how many murders are committed in their jurisdiction. That information is stored on computers. It doesn’t need to be delivered to the Department of Justice via carrier pigeon. A serious federal investment in crime data collection is no panacea, and it’s not exactly a winning political slogan. It would be a huge boost to all kinds of crime-control efforts, Bloomberg says..

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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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