After declining for more than two decades, the number of violent crime victims in the United States jumped by 22% over the past three years, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s statistics arm.
There were 3.3 million victims of violent crime in 2018, up from 2.7 million in 2015, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey showed. The annual survey was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The three-year rise was fueled by increases in the number of victims of rape and sexual assault, which jumped from 204,000 to 347,000; aggravated assault, which rose from 561,000 to 694,000; and simple assault, which grew 1.7 million to 2.1 million.
It is the third consecutive BJS survey to show an increase in the number of violent-crime victims and follows a 60% decline between 1994 and 2015, a period in which crime fell precipitously across the United States.
“The longstanding general trend of declining violent crime in the United States, which began in the 1990s, has reversed direction in recent years,” BJS statisticians Rachel Morgan and Barbara Oudekerk wrote in the report.
Counter to administration's claims
The findings contradict the Trump administration’s assertion that it has helped halt a violent crime “epidemic” which it claims was fueled in part by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.
The administration has made fighting violent crime a central focus of its domestic agenda, and officials have pointed to recent FBI crime statistics to take credit for a turnaround.
In prepared remarks to a public safety symposium in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday, Jon Adler, director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, said the administration has “hit our stride” in the fight against violent crime.
“After two years of alarming increases in the crime rate leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, our nation has turned a corner,” Adler said. “This is a testament, not to some grand federal policy or initiative, but to the hard work and sharp focus of our nation’s front-line law enforcement officers.”
The remarks were not delivered as prepared. A spokesman for the Office of Justice Programs did not provide an explanation for the decision.
In February, the FBI reported a decline of 4.3% in violent crime during the first six months of 2018 on top of a slight decrease in 2017. The back-to-back drop came after an increase of 8% in violent crime in 2015 and 2016. The FBI data is based on voluntary reporting by thousands of local police departments.
What this means
The recent increase in the crime rate was not as ominous as Trump administration officials claim, according to Andrew Wheeler, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. The long-term downtrend, however, appears to have plateaued, Wheeler said.
“I think it's sufficient to say that there's good evidence that it's been increasing the past couple years, because we have the different data sources that are basically all telling us that same information,” Wheeler said. “But whether or not the increases are alarming or substantive, I'm not sure if the evidence points to that.”
While BJS statisticians say the recent data point to a reversal in falling violent crime, Wheeler said it is still too early to draw any conclusions about long-term trends.
“I’m not real sure if the trend is basically meandering about its average and is going up and or down, or if it’s actually increasing or not,” said Wheeler said.