FBI data show sharp drop in violent crime but steepness is questioned

The Biden administration is taking credit for a sharp decline in violent crime across the country earlier this year, but one expert warns that the declines in the FBI data are preliminary and likely exaggerated.

The data shows that violent crime in every category fell sharply in every region in the first three months of 2024 compared to a year earlier, continuing a downward trend since the coronavirus pandemic.

Murder and rape both fell by 26%, theft by 18% and aggravated assault fell by 13% in the first quarter. Overall violent crime fell 15%, reflecting a decline in every region, from 10% in the West to 19% in the Midwest, according to FBI data released Monday.

Property crime, meanwhile, has fallen by 15%, according to data announced by President Joe Biden in a statement.

“My administration is deploying more police officers, holding violent criminals accountable and taking illegal guns off the streets – and we are doing this in partnership with communities. As a result, Americans are safer today than when I took office,” Biden said.

The declines were consistent with previous reports to show improvement since crime has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic. But one crime data analyst was skeptical that recent declines have been so steep.

Violent crime almost certainly fell earlier this year, but the FBI almost certainly exaggerated by how much, Jeff Asher of the data consultancy AH Datalytics wrote in an online post.

The preliminary data for 77% of the U.S. population is prone to reporting errors, giving law enforcement agencies months to correct before submitting final data, Asher noted.

The downward trend is likely correct, but other data shows varying rates of declining violent crime by city and even a slight increase in violent crime in New York in the first three months of 2024, Asher wrote .

“I would urge great caution in reading too much into the raw percentage changes and in focusing on the overarching picture. Nearly all crime data is imperfect, and the quarterly data adds an important imperfect piece to the puzzle of national crime trends,” Asher wrote.

Murders in 2020 increased 29% for the largest single-year jump in FBI records. Experts suggested the pandemic’s massive disruption, gun violence, worries about the economy and intense stress were to blame.

Violent crime fell back to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 and fell further in 2023.