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New Data Shatters a Common Talking Point About Where Crime Is Occurring

Bureau of Justice Statistics released last week contradict the notion that crime is spiking everywhere in America.

SO WHAT

It’s getting harder for criminal justice reform advocates to say their policies have nothing to do with the crime spike.

THE NUMBERS

The new BJS data, based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, revealed that the number of violent crimes per capita jumped by over a quarter in urban areas in 2021, while declining slightly in suburban areas and significantly in rural areas.

The statistics are based on NCVS annual interviews with around a quarter million people from a nationally representative sample about their experiences with criminal victimization over the previous year.

  • Cities historically have higher crime rates than suburban and rural areas due to greater population density, but the surge in urban crime in the 2021 data marks a departure from previous years, when crime rates in all three categories remained relatively flat.
  • From 2018-2020 urban crime rates ranged from 29%-42% higher than suburban and rural areas, but then spiked 121% higher in 2021.
  • A separate national report from the FBI, based on reports from 63% of law enforcement agencies, found that total violent crimes across the U.S. fell 1% in 2021, suggesting the decrease in rural and suburban areas may have outweighed the increase in cities.

FOR BETTER OR WORSE, CITIES ARE SYNONYMOUS WITH DEMOCRATS

Many conservative commentators have blamed the increase in crime from 2020-2022 on progressive criminal justice reforms implemented by state and local legislatures.

Some studies have concluded that eliminating cash bail for many felonies increased crime, including violent crime, in Democratic strongholds like New York State as well as San Francisco and Chicago.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Liberals have rejected the notion that progressive criminal justice reform policies are to blame for the spike in crime, claiming the phenomenon is occurring nationwide, not just in big Democratic cities.

Focusing solely on murders, the Brennan Center argued that in 2020 homicides increased in urban, suburban, and rural areas, with Democratic and Republican-governed cities equally affected.

  • In an August Wall Street Journal op-ed billionaire philanthropist George Soros vowed to continue supporting progressive prosecutors, referring to one unpublished study of 35 jurisdictions, “show[ing] no connection between the election of reform-minded prosecutors and local crime rates.”

OK, BUT

The BJS data showing a violent crime spike in big cities in 2021 appears to undermine a key pillar of the liberal argument, as urban areas’ fortunes diverged from rural areas and suburbs, not long after many cities implemented sweeping progressive reforms.

  • “The rise in crime in urban areas hasn’t resulted from random chance,” according to Jeffrey H. Anderson, director of the BJS from 2017-2021.
  • “It’s a product of the powers that be in major cities having willfully ignored the lessons across the decades that Broken Windows policing works, and that indulging general disorder leads not only to squalor but also to rising violent crime,” Anderson wrote in an analysis published Tuesday by City Journal.

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