Despite claims of a crime wave, the latest FBI data reveals a more nuanced picture – both violent and property crime rates continued to fall or hold steady in 2022. However, the data does indicate a crisis of a different kind.
The data simply does not support declarations of a crime crisis. But truth often takes a back seat to political rhetoric in an election season.
A sober, thorough analysis of the facts shows violent crime, including homicide, robbery and assault, dropped 1.7% last year compared to 2021. This extends an ongoing 30-year decline – today’s violent crime rate is less than half what it was in the early 1990s, a true watershed moment for public safety.
The homicide rate specifically is down 6.1% in 2022 and plunged nearly 12% in major cities so far in 2023, according to a New York Times analysis. This sharp drop contradicts predictions of an endless “murder wave” and points to progress on curbing deadly violence through targeted prevention and intervention efforts.
As for property crimes like burglary and theft, the rate held nearly steady last year after plunging during the pandemic. But it remains near historic lows, with 6.5 million property crimes in 2022 versus 7.4 million back in 2018 – a significant reduction.
Crime trends in Rhode Island reflect the national picture. Violent crime ticked up during the COVID-19 pandemic but remains near 30-year lows, per state police data. The recent increase was driven by aggravated assaults, which tend to be non-fatal, while murder and rape declined. Property crime also rose during the pandemic but is down substantially over the past decade.
Critically, while crime rates have fallen substantially over the past 30 years, police “clearance rates” – the rate at which police solve reported crimes – remain extremely low across all categories.
For homicides, just 52% lead to an arrest and prosecution. That means nearly half of all murders go unsolved, leaving dangerous killers on the loose. For rape, the clearance rate is a woefully low 26%, meaning 3 out of 4 rapists face no consequences. Nearly 80% of robberies and close to 60% of aggravated assaults also go unsolved.
Clearance rates for property crimes are even more anemic, in the teens or single digits. According to the FBI data, roughly 9 out of 10 burglaries or auto thefts, and nearly 9 in 10 larcenies, result in no arrest.
What these abysmal clearance rates show is that even as crime declines, police effectiveness in solving crimes and apprehending perpetrators remains stagnant at best or deteriorating at worst. More officers and resources have not moved the needle – clearance rates have been dismal for decades. The simple truth is that after crimes occur, victims have depressingly low odds of seeing justice done.
Meanwhile, over $100 billion is spent annually on policing nationwide, with expanding budgets nearly every year, especially in Rhode Island. Yet with violent crime at historic lows, the return on this massive investment remains poor in terms of identifying and charging criminals. Police seize on sporadic, temporary crime spikes to demand more funding. But the data shows no correlation between police budgets and public safety.
So what is the path forward to build safer communities? Many experts point to new approaches beyond traditional policing. Violence prevention programs, increased mental health and drug treatment services, youth intervention initiatives, anti-poverty and jobs programs have all shown promise.
But promising community programs get only a fraction of public dollars dedicated to police departments. And police themselves rarely implement creative solutions – arrests and reactions still dominate operations. Until that mindset changes, clearance rates are likely to stay low while victims wait for justice.
The data doesn’t lie, political rhetoric around a new “crime wave” does not reflect reality. Violent and property crime are in long-term declines, though some ups and downs occur year-to-year. But police continue to struggle mightily to actually solve crimes and take criminals off the streets. Doubling down on failed strategies is not the answer.
Crime is a complex societal issue, and overheated election year slogans do nothing to make our communities safer. Steady, smart reforms and forward-thinking public investments are the path forward. Fear-mongering may win votes, but the data shows it simply does not match the declining crime rates America has fortunately experienced over the past three decades. •
You can explore all of the data released by the FBI using the bureau’s Crime Data Explorer website.