WASHINGTON – Violent crime in the U.S. ticked up in 2016 for the second consecutive year, according to the FBI. It's the first time a two-year increase was recorded in more than a decade.
The FBI's annual report on violent crime statistics released Monday tracked a growing priority of the Trump administration, which has offered ominous warnings since Inauguration Day of a growing crime problem in America and a re-emergence of violent criminal gangs.
While overall violent crime rates in much of the country do not compare with the high-water marks of more than two decades ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been traveling the country since taking office earlier this year and warning that the nation was again vulnerable to violence that ravaged local communities in the 1980s and 1990s.
"We cannot accept this as the new normal," Sessions said last week in Boston, referring to the new crime numbers. "I have said before, my best judgement was that the 2015 numbers were not a blip. This is a frightening trend that threatens to erode so much progress that had made our neighborhoods and communities safer – over 30 years declines in crime are being replaced by increases."
Overall violent crime was up 4.1% last year, while murder increased by 8.6%, according to new FBI statistics. Last year, the FBI reported violent crime rose by 3.9% in 2015, while murder jumped by 10.8%.
The surges appeared to be driven by increases in murders in Chicago, Baltimore and some other large cities where violence persisted even as neighboring communities reported declines.
An analysis by the the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that overall crime in the U.S. had dropped due to sustained declines in property-related offenses. Burglary, vehicle theft and larceny has declined for 14 straight years. But murder increases were driven by violence in many of the country's 30-largest cities.
"Chicago accounted for more than 20% of the nationwide murder increase in 2016, despite being home to less than 1% of the U.S. population," the center concluded.
“The FBI’s data show trends similar to what we’ve found for crime, murder, and violence in 2016,” said Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “Crime remains near historic lows, with an uptick in murder and violence driven in part by problems in some of our nation’s largest cities. At the same time, other cities like New York are keeping crime down.”
Despite the increases in violence, Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program, challenged the Trump administration's contention that "crime is out of control."
“Chicago, for example, has had serious issues that need to be addressed," Chettiar said. "But by painting the entire country with too broad a brush, the President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are peddling fear and distracting from the frank and honest conversations needed to find solutions to these real problems.”
Ronal Serpas, chairman of a national coalition of police officials known as Law Enforcement Leaders, cautioned that crime still remained at "near all-time lows" despite the recent increases in violence.
"This concerning violence is localized and should be addressed as such," said Serpas, former New Orleans Police Department superintendent.