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The Nation's Crime Trends for 2023 Are Coming Into Focus
Murder is falling while auto thefts are rising through the roof.
“Give it until the summer before you really start to believe whether murder is going up or down nationally.” - My March 16, 2023 post.
Folks, it’s hot. Really hot. And that can only mean one thing: summer is here and some very tentative conclusions can start to be drawn about how the nation’s crime trends this year. Of course we won’t know for sure until next October when the FBI formally releases crime data for 2023, but there are now sufficient tea leaves to make an educated guesstimate of what those figures will look like without having to wait another 15 months.
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Murder is almost certainly going to decline in 2023 and the smart money remains on a sizable and possibly historically large national decrease. Consider the evidence:
Murder is down 12 percent as of the end of July according to our YTD Murder Dashboard which now contains data for 109 cities. Our sample of big cities has been very consistent as the year has gone on, showing a double-digit decline at the end of each month:
Data from 2010 to 2019 suggests that a perfect sample of 100 cities through July is usually quite predictive of the national trend. This sample did overstate the national trend by 2.7 percent on average over that span, so it would seem that an 8 to 11 percent national decline in murder in 2023 seems strongly likely.
Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that we do not have a perfect 100 city sample with roughly three quarters of the available cities having data through at least June and about half having data through mid or late July.
The big city sample is matched by shooting victimization data from the Gun Violence Archive. Fatal shooting victims are down 6 percent this year through July according to GVA data with the decline accelerating over the last two months.
There were around 10 or 11 percent fewer fatal shooting victims in June and July 2023 relative to the same months in 2022, according to the GVA data.
The overall crime picture is a bit more muddled. Fewer cities provide data for all major crimes as defined as Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Part I compared to those that provide data for just murder. Reminder that Part I crimes include violent crimes murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and property crimes burglary, theft, and auto theft.
I found 42 cities with Part I data published through at least June which give some idea as to what is happening nationally. Property crime is up 6 percent in this sample while violent crime is down 1.5 percent.
This is a smaller sample than the murder sample and a smaller sample will probably be less precise for predicting the national year-end trend. Still, the available data does point to an increase in property crime with violent crime being roughly even or down very slightly.
A 6 percent increase in property crime doesn’t sound like much, but property crime nationally fell 19 straight years between 2003 and 2021 and in 28 of the last 30 years — 2022 data is not yet available. Any increase in property crime would represent a reversal of the long term trend.
It isn’t hard to pinpoint what is driving the increase in property crime: auto thefts. Auto thefts began rising in July 2022 and there is not a ton of evidence that these crimes have started to fall yet. Auto thefts in the sample are up an astounding 42 percent this year relative to last year with an increase occurring in 33 of the 42 available cities. Removing auto thefts from the property crime counts in the 42 city sample would change the YTD difference in property crimes from +6 percent to -2.6 percent.
It’s possible that the auto theft trend flattens out over the last few months of the year, and it’s also possible that big cities are more dramatically overstating the national trend in auto thefts. But all of the available evidence points to 2023 representing the largest one-time increase in auto theft nationally ever recorded, eclipsing 11 and 12 percent increases in 1986, 1988 and 2020.
To summarize the crime trends so far: murder way down, violent crime about even, burglary and theft down, auto theft way up. There are still five more months left in the year, so these trends could change, but big cities paint a picture of what is happening nationally. The big city picture is getting increasingly clearer as the year goes on but we won’t know for sure how clear the picture is until the FBI releases data next October.