Earlier (September 2021) FBI: Murders Up 4,901 In 2020, Black Share Of Known Murder Offenders Reaches Record 56.5%
The FBI is scheduled to finally release its 2021 crime stats this week, almost nine months after the end of the year.
Fortunately, we have had the CDC’s provisional estimates for 2021 causes of death since July. The FBI tracks murders and the CDC homicides. All murders are homicides but some homicides (e.g., self-defense) are not murders. But the two numbers track pretty closely over time. The CDC tracks the identity of victims but not of perpetrators.
We know from the CDC that homicide deaths were 4.1% higher than in 2020 and 36.0% higher than in 2019: e.g., rather than a homicide spike, we have a homicide plateau, a New Normal.
That should be bad news for the Democrats, but there’s an election coming up, so steps must be taken to provide nuanced perspectives to counter this misinformation.
From the Center for Just Journalism:
A Journalist’s Guide to the FBI’s 2021 Crime Statistics
The FBI’s crime data release will come less than two months before a national election in which crime is a politicized issue surrounded by a lot of misinformation. There are several steps journalists can take to inject nuance and context into the conversation about this data:
• Note that the data is old, and highlight what is known about 2022. By the time the FBI releases national crime statistics each year, the data is months out of date.
It’s NOT NEW NEWS, people. Maybe everything is all nice now. Can you prove it’s not? I didn’t think so.
Many local and state police agencies publish reported crime statistics much more regularly, and, if not, the statistics can often be obtained through public records requests, making it possible for journalists in many jurisdictions to include more up-to-date information about their communities’ reported crime trends in their stories.
Place the data in historical and geographic context. ‒ The number of reported crimes will always fluctuate from one year to another, so it is important to compare reported crime rates not just with the previous year but with several other points in the past (i.e. 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 30 years ago, etc.). This is particularly important in 2021, when some politicians claim, and many people believe, that crime is at record highs. While there have been real increases in some types of crime, including some of the most devastating crimes like homicide and other types of gun violence, overall reported crime rates, and even murder rates, in 2020, 2021, and thus far in 2022 have remained well below the historic highs of the 1980s and 1990s.
Likewise, combat deaths in Europe in 2022 are down 97% since 1944, so everything’s good.
‒ The FBI’s national-level crime estimates generate a lot of attention, but local, state, and regional trends are equally important. This additional geographic context helps news consumers understand if a trend is happening across the country or whether increases or decreases in reported crime are concentrated in particular places.
In other words, try to confuse your readers with details.
This type of analysis is also useful for factchecking claims about the link between local policies and crime increases. For example, the fact that the increase in murder in 2020 happened across the country in rural, suburban, and urban areas is critical context to include when public officials blame local increases in gun homicide on a DA’s practices, bail reform, or any other geographically-limited policy.
It’s almost as if the national Establishment lost their collective minds after the death of George Floyd and declared ”the racial reckoning,” which unleashed carnage across America. Vote Democratic!
Anyway, homicides were up from 2019 to 2021 by 43% in Large Central Metros while up 17% in the most rural category: NonCore (Nonmetro).
By the way, this year, there will be even more missing data than usual in the FBI stats because of a bureaucratic change 25 years in the making. This involves an epistemological controversy over the best way to handle crimes in which more than one offense was committed. The FBI started many decades ago using a bureaucratically simpler but less informative methodology, then introduced a more complex approach in the 1990s, asking local police departments to voluntarily switch. Finally, in 2016 it announced that all data had to be reported via the newer system by 2021. But lots of police forces, such as the LAPD, just haven’t gotten around to it.
Many will assume, not unreasonably, that this fiasco is a racial-political conspiracy. But my impression is that cops mostly just don’t like thinking hard about data. In Bill Bratton’s memoir The Profession, it appears he was able to create his famous CompStat system in the 1990s because he could find, out of the tens of thousands of NYPD cops, exactly six who liked playing around with computers and data. So once cops have a good-enough system running, they are loath to change it just to improve data quality.
So the FBI will fill in even more of the missing data with plausible guesses this year than in the past. The numbers aren’t going to be useless this year, but they will be less reliable for measuring year to year changes than in the past. On the other hand, all other data suggests that 2021 was pretty much a continuation of the ugly New Normal that emerged in the second quarter of 2020 with COVID and the George Floyd “racial reckoning.”
Here’s my write-up of last year’s FBI murder stats.