Violent crime in the United States saw an increase in 2015, according to the annual report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Yet digging deeper into the statistics, released on Monday, offers some solace to those seeking wider trends: While the numbers are higher than the two preceding years, they remain lower than at any other time in the past two decades.
Moreover, the more pronounced spike in homicides – higher than at any time since 2009 – has been driven largely by three cities, rather than representing a nationwide shift.
With the first presidential debate scheduled for Monday night, some observers, such as Harvard Law School research fellow Robert Smith, caution that the FBI’s report could be used as a “political football,” as the candidates are likely to focus on public safety as one of the main themes.
"The vast majority of normal citizens have no idea about crime trends," Matthew Robinson, a professor of government and justice at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., told The Christian Science Monitor last week.
This lack of context leaves many people open to the influence of those who, using the surface statistics of reports such as the FBI’s latest, would paint a picture of a nation descending into a spiral of violence.
Donald Trump has declared himself the “law and order” candidate, declaring the nation’s crime rate to be “out of control,” and recently won an endorsement from the largest police union in the country.
Yet the authors of a study published last week by the Brennan Center of Justice, entitled “Crime in 2016: A preliminary analysis,” beg to differ with Mr. Trump’s characterization of the United States as a country plagued by a surging crime wave.
"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 study's authors conclude.
The researchers considered the 30 largest cities in the US, and found that half of the 14 percent increase in murder rates in 2015, compared with 2014, was prompted by just three cities: Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
The statistics used by the FBI in compiling their annual report have suffered criticism in recent years due to alleged inconsistencies in reporting by different law enforcement agencies. But alongside the release of the latest report, the agency’s director, James Comey, spoke of the importance of addressing these concerns, detailing a new system due to roll out no later than 2021.
“We need more transparency and accountability in law enforcement,” said Mr. Comey. “Information that is accurate, reliable, complete, and timely will help all of us learn where we have problems and how to get better.”
Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.