As summer concludes, it’s increasingly clear that there was no so-called crime wave. The FBI reported that over-all crime dropped by 10% in the first quarter of 2023 as compared to the first quarter in 2022. In particular, the number of murders dropped by 17%. A national expert in criminal justice data, Jeff Asher, published a piece about it in The Atlantic. Looking at the first six months of 2023 as compared to 2022, the murder rate fell by double digits across America. It was "astonishing", he wrote.
Yet with few exceptions the media either seems unaware or is uninterested in these downward murder rates because they don’t tend to grab readers’ attention in quite the same way that rising ones do. Drumbeats of murder stories continued in cities across the country. Reporting on downward trends was rarer. The New York Times did run a story citing the drop in shootings in New York City. The 25 percent fall is in line with other falls across the country. But this is an important story to tell as it has significant consequences for the public’s perception of how safe criminal justice reforms are like the Safety and Justice Challenge, a project of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, that have significantly reduced jail populations across the country over recent years.
First let’s examine murder rates and why they increased in 2020 and are declining again. Historically, murder rates since 1931 have ranged from 10 to 5 per 100,000 population (see graph below, figure 1). The historic average is 6.7. So, the recent increases since 2020 actually reflect the historic average. Assuming the first six months of 2023 hold, the 2023 rate will dip down to 5.7 – well below the historic average.