TURES COLUMN: Good news about the murder rate in cities: It’s falling!

Published 10:30 am Saturday, January 7, 2023

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There’s some good news about the murder rate in the United States. After two years on the rise, it’s declined for 2022, along with gun-related homicides and shootings. In this column, I cover recent trends in crime, along with a “bad news bias” in the media, the rejection of any good news by a segment of the public, and where crime is actually a bigger problem.

“Murders in large U.S. cities are down more than 5 percent so far in 2022 compared to the same time last year, according to the research firm AH Datalytics,” writes German Lopez with The New York Times. “Gun deaths, injuries and mass shootings are also down this year.”

We know that the murder rate dropped slightly in 2017, and by nearly six percent in 2017. After a slight rise in 2019, the murder rate spiked by 28.64 percent to 6.52 in 2020. Murders did increase by 4.3 percent in 2021, though violent crime inched down by 1% from 2021 to 2020 according to the FBI, as reported by Fox News.

In fact, it’s encouraging to note that the crime rate is lower than it was in the early 1990s, when it was 9.3 murders per 100,000, 9.71 in 1991, 9.25 in 1992 and 9.45 in 1993. By 2000, it had fallen to 5.53 per 100,000. Except for a spike in 2001, it’s been less than 6 until 2020.

Many of you probably looked at this headline and saying “No way! That’s not possible! I’ve heard differently. In fact, I just know it’s not true!” 

This column isn’t just about the actual crime rate. It’s how we perceive the news in general, and about how we think about crime in particular. 

If we didn’t have hyperpartisanship, where crime has been politicized, we’d actually greet the news, instead of condemning it or making excuses for the results. 

When I was a communications major, we learned about the “bad news bias,” in the media, where the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” takes hold. Indeed, crime reporting tends to give us a pretty warped view of what’s happening in America. That’s why people consistently overestimate the crime rate, and always assume it’s higher now than before, and is always rising without end.

Another reason my students and I found was the profusion of crime shows on TV. We found that shows like Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, and all of their spinoffs (several for each), as well as Criminal Minds, Chicago PD, Blue Bloods, Hawaii 5-0 (there’s a new one), 9-1-1, Big Sky, The Rookie…it goes on and on…occupy more slots than any other type of show, even if their ratings aren’t superior to those of other genres. 

Now you can stream more, and listen to no shortage of true crime podcasts, to say nothing of the book publishing industry. It’s no wonder people think there’s so much more crime than there really is.

Most of the news reports have been about what happens in cities. Most stories covering crime compare this group to see which is the worst, ignoring what’s happening in rural areas. Both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal found rural crime rates to be spiking. It is here, not as much on the urban areas, where attention needs to be focused to continue the reduction in crime in America.