WASHINGTON - The number of murders in the United States slipped last year after jumping for two years in a row, the FBI reported Monday.
There were 17,284 homicides in 2017, down from 17,413 in 2016, a decline of 0.7 percent, the FBI said in its annual crime statistics. The murder rate slipped to 5.3 murders per 100,000 residents from 5.4 murders per 100,000 residents.
The declines were particularly pronounced in large urban centers, with the number of killings in cities with populations of over 1 million falling by 8.1 percent. In Chicago, there were 112 fewer killings in 2017, a decline of 14 percent.
The state of Louisiana recorded the highest murder rate for the 29th straight year, with 12.4 murders per 100,000 residents. Among major cities, St. Louis had the highest murder rate, recording 66.1 murders per 100,000 residents.
Overall, violent crime also fell, with the violent crime rate dropping by nearly 1 percent, to 383 incidents per 100,000 residents, according to the report, which is based on information reported by more than 16,000 law enforcement agencies.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking at a public safety event in Hoover, Alabama, credited the Trump administration with reversing the violent crime trend after what he labeled “big mistakes” made during the last two years of the Obama administration.
In 2015 and 2016, the violent crime rate surged by nearly 7 percent, while murder skyrocketed by more than 20 percent after both had declined for more than two decades.
Critics chalked up the spike in violent crime to Obama administration policies, including its increased scrutiny of police departments through court-enforced reform agreements. One of Sessions’ first acts in office was to rescind those so-called consent decrees.
“From the beginning, I have said — and let me say this loud and clear again — we will not let that progress slip away,” Sessions said. “We are determined resolutely to get back to reducing crime rates.”
But criminologists noted that the federal government’s role in fighting crime is limited and that the decline in the violent crime rate over the past year has been driven largely by local factors.
“The feds play at best a minimal role in crime policy,” said John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School. “There are more police officers in the New York Police Department than the entire FBI.”
Louisiana-based crime analyst Jeff Asher said there were likely as many reasons for the decline in violent crime last year as there was for its spike in 2015 and 2016.
“(Just) as I am skeptical that there was just one cause of the murder spike in 2015 and 2016, I am skeptical of any argument that improved enforcement of the law and support for law enforcement are primarily responsible for a slight decline in 2017,” Asher said.
“Smarter policing at the local level may be one factor contributing to what appears to be a national decline, though I am not sure there is any evidence that increased prosecution at the federal level played a role,” Asher said.
The decline in violent crime appears to have continued into 2018, with preliminary data showing overall violent crime down nearly 5 percent, and murder down more than 6 percent.
In a report released last week, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University projected the 2018 murder rate in the nation’s 30 largest cities to decline by an average of 7.6 percent to near the bottom of a two-decade-long decline.