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FBI: Murders Up Nearly 11 Percent In 2015; Violent Crime Rose Slightly

Police crime tape is displayed at the scene where a 16-year-old was shot and killed and an 18-year-old was shot and wounded on April 25 in Chicago.
Joshua Lott
Getty Images
Police crime tape is displayed at the scene where a 16-year-old was shot and killed and an 18-year-old was shot and wounded on April 25 in Chicago.

Newly released FBI data show the number of murders in the U.S. rose nearly 11 percent last year and violent crime increased by nearly 4 percent, but crime researchers said homicides and other violence still remain at low rates compared with a crime wave from 20 years ago.

Seven cities are largely responsible for the increase in murders last year, according to John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University who closely follows crime: Baltimore; Chicago; Houston; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; Philadelphia; and Kansas City, Mo. That pattern has not held steady into 2016, as homicides in some places, including Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have dropped.

The FBI says firearms were used in more than 70 percent of the murders last year.

Pfaff noted on Twitter, "The number of rapes is less than in 2009, the number of robberies less than in ... 2013, and assaults less than in 2010. Still quite safe."

But for the Justice Department, the rise in homicides and some other violent crime compared with 2014 is getting plenty of attention.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking in Arkansas on Monday at a meeting on targeting trouble in urban centers, said violence "tears at the fabric of our common life." She added that any such increase "is of the deepest concern ... to the entire Department of Justice." Federal authorities blasted out a series of news releases announcing grant awards to communities to enhance the sharing of information about illegally purchased weapons and other crime-fighting measures.

The issue of law and order has been a persistent theme in this year's presidential race, as Republican candidate Donald Trump has urged the need to restore order to U.S. cities, and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has emphasized the need for partnerships between law enforcement and communities of color. The new FBI crime data could become a topic during their first presidential debate Monday night in New York.

The Fair Punishment Project, a center based at Harvard Law School, pointed out that the country is "safer under President Obama than under any other President in over a half-century."

"No year during George W. Bush's, Bill Clinton's, George H.W. Bush's or Ronald Reagan's presidency was as safe as 2015," according to a summary prepared by the project leaders. "Violent crime in the U.S. is near historic lows and the country is dramatically safer than it was 45 years ago, 25 years ago, and 10 years ago."

FBI Director James Comey has been pushing for better ways to collect and analyze crime statistics from the nation's state and local police departments.

"Information that is accurate, reliable, complete and timely will help all of us learn where we have problems and how to get better," Comey said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.