Sue Ogrocki / AP

Crime, murder rates hold steady in 2015, report says

Researchers say US data disputes so-called 'Ferguson effect,' which says scrutiny of police tactics led to higher crime

Murders and other crimes are not spiking in 2015, contrary to suspicions that police have scaled back on protecting their communities due to scrutiny of their tactics following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a phenomenon that has been dubbed “the Ferguson effect.

That’s according to researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a law and policy institute, who released a report Thursday in which they dispel the notion that crime is on the rise in U.S. cities. The report found that the incidence of crime in 2015 is about the same as it was in 2014, and that murder rates have only increased slightly over the last year.

“The average person in a large urban area is safer walking on the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years,” the authors wrote. “Although headlines suggesting a coming crime wave make good copy, a look at the available data shows there is no evidence to support this claim.”

The researchers examined preliminary statistics on murders and general crime data from the 30 largest U.S. cities from Jan. 1 through Oct. 1, 2015, gathered from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local police departments.

What they found is that overall crime rates — which they calculated using a statistical composite of murder, non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny and auto theft — thus far in 2015 decreased by 1.5 percent as compared to 2014.

The researchers found that murder rates rose by 11 percent in 2015 as compared to 2014 in the 30 largest cities but noted that murder rates overall are very low. As a result, any rise amounts to a large percentage increase, the authors said.

“It should also be noted that murder rates vary widely from year to year,” the authors wrote. “One year’s increase does not necessarily portend a coming wave of violent crime.”

While murder rates rose in 14 cities, they fell in 11 cities, the report said. Charlotte, North Carolina and Austin, Texas, experienced large percentage increases in murder rates: 40 percent and 69 percent, respectively, from 2014 to 2015. But the number of murders in those cities remained relatively low. In Charlotte, it climbed to 66 in 2015 from 47 in 2014, and in Austin, it rose to 54 in 2015 from 32 in 2014.

Murder rates today, the authors added, are at “all-time historic lows,” decreasing to 9.9 murders per 100,000 people in the U.S., down from 13.8 murders per 100,000 people in 2000 and 29.3 murders per 100,000 people in 1990.

“Averaged across the cities, we find that while Americans in urban areas have experienced more murders this year than last year, they are safer than they were five years ago and much safer than they were 25 years ago,” the authors said.

Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there was no evidence to support the "Ferguson effect."

“While certainly there might be anecdotal evidence there, as all have noted, there’s no data to support it, and what I have seen in my travels across this country is the dedication, the commitment and the resolve of our brave men and women in law enforcement to improving policing, to embracing the 21st Century Task Force recommendations, and to continuing to have a dialogue that makes our country safer for all,” Lynch said on Tuesday during her testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

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