By a Biometrica Staffer
On March 15, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) published its latest quarterly assessment of crime in the U.S. through its Uniform Crime Report data for the last quarter of the period 2019-2020, i.e. the last quarter of calendar year 2020. This is the first time the Bureau is publishing data under its new reporting system, the National Incident-Based Reporting Program (NIBRS). And the numbers seem to have a worrying story to tell.
At the outset, reports of violent crimes increased 3.3% in the last quarter of 2020 — the highest percentage rise in the year. Violent crime reports include data covering four different kinds of offenses: homicide (murder and non-negligent manslaughter), rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. They’re basically offenses that involve force or the threat of force, according to the Bureau’s definition.*
Within violent crimes, a worrisome trend is that the rates of reported murders are still high. The rate of reported murders started with a percentage increase of 6.6% in the first quarter of 2019-2020. It spiked 14.8% in the second quarter, jumped to a percentage increase of 20.9% in the third quarter, and stood at 24.7% in the last quarter.
The FBI also reports crimes in terms of percent change by population groups, dividing the nation into cities with a population of 1,000,000 or more, cities with a population from 500,000 through 999,999 and so on. Even based on that division — which creates eight different groups, and two more that are classified as metropolitan counties and non-metropolitan counties — reported murder rates increased on a double-digit basis across all ten groups.
The highest rate of growth within that group was, of course, for cities with a population of 1 million or more at 32.%. But even some smaller divisions, like those with a population of 100,000 through 249,999 and those with a population of 10,000 through 24,999, had rates of increase as high as 28.1% and 25.5% respectively.
The FBI says, for the population estimates used, it computed individual rates of growth from one year to the next for every city/town and country using the most recent decennial population counts and subsequent years’ population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Each agency’s rates of growth were averaged; that average was then applied to the previous year’s Census population estimate to derive the agency’s population estimate for the selected year.
But the Bureau cautions against ranking locations or making comparisons with others. “Since crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors, the FBI discourages ranking locations or making comparisons as a way of measuring law enforcement effectiveness. Some of this data may not be comparable to previous years because of differing levels of participation over time,” the FBI says on its website.
Quarterly Uniform Crime Report data for the nation are derived from summary (SRS) and incident (NIBRS) reports voluntarily submitted to the FBI. In 2020, the FBI Crime Report for the nation is based on data received from 12,974 of 18,592 law enforcement agencies in the country that year.
Apart from a steadily growing rate of murders reported, the data also showed a similar trend for aggravated assault. Reports of aggravated assault grew at a rate of 3.7% in the first quarter of the year, clocked a growth rate of 4.6% in the second quarter, before jumping 8.3% in the third quarter, and ending the year with a 10.5% rate in the last quarter.
However, the percentage increases of aggravated assault reports are still not as high as those for murder reports. Of the ten population-based divisions by the FBI, only cities with higher populations witnessed double-digit growth rates of aggravated assault reports.
Motor vehicle theft reports also steadily increased through the course of 2020. This offense falls under property crimes, which also includes burglary, arson and larceny-theft. Reports of motor vehicle thefts grew 10.5% in the last quarter, a faster rate than even in the second quarter — when the pandemic was at its initial worst, seemingly — where it clocked a growth rate of 6.2%.
On Jan. 1, 2021, the National Incident-Based Reporting Program officially replaced the Summary Reporting System as the UCR’s data standard. For a look at the history of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, its reporting components, and at why the system needed change, read our piece from Feb. 24 here.
* According to the FBI’s footnotes on the data, the year 2020 includes crimes reported to sheriffs’ departments, county police departments, and state police within Metropolitan Statistical Areas. But the figures for rapes reported include only those reported by law enforcement agencies that used the revised Uniform Crime Reporting definition of rape as well as converted data from agencies that reported data for rape, sodomy, and sexual assault with an object via the NIBRS for both years.
** Regions according to the report:
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland ,North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington