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Crime rates up for second year but still near historic lows

According to the FBI's most recent "Crime in the United States" report, violent crime rose noticeably in Albuquerque between 2015 and 2016, but only modestly nationwide. Experts say the national rise in violent crime is driven by spikes in a few cities and the overall rate remains near historically low levels. The FBI points out that this is the first time in a decade that the violent crime rate has risen in two consecutive years.

It's important for the public to understand the context of these increases because people often have false beliefs about the prevalence of crime. The reality is that all the forms of violent crime measured by the FBI are near historic lows. When the public concludes the nation is in the midst of a crime wave, it is often tempting to restrict civil rights as a result.  

Experts remain divided over the meaning of the two-year rise. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes that the small spikes in violent crime portend a continual rise in the future. Others, including the director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, say that two years of increases is simply not enough to establish a trend of any kind.

"There just aren't any factors that would strongly indicate continued further increases," he added. "We all yearn for a big-picture, national explanation for what's going on that would help us make sense of this, but we don't have one."

The FBI defines violent crime as including murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. Nationwide, the overall violent crime rate rose 3.9 percent in 2015 and another 4.1 percent in 2016. That said, it dropped by 18 percent between 2007 and 2008. Even then, the rate was far lower than it had been in the 1980s and 1990s.

In Albuquerque, the violent crime rate spiked by 15.5 percent in 2015 and jumped by 41.8 percent in 2016. These percentages seem remarkably high, but such large jumps are more related to the relatively low overall numbers than to any major increase in crime.

To illustrate that point, consider that statewide, violent crime only rose 6.8 percent in 2016, and much of that increase was attributed to the rise in Albuquerque. There were also large drops in other New Mexico cities. For example, 28 fewer violent crimes in Carlsbad last year translated to a seemingly large drop of 17 percent. Likewise, 26 fewer offenses in Taos translated to a 31 percent drop in the violent crime rate.

Statistics are an important tool in measuring crime, but one or two years of numbers don't create much of a trend and certainly don't justify panic.

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