While crime overall and violent crime remain well below their levels of the 1980s and 1990s, last year was the first time violent crime increased in consecutive years since 2005 and 2006, according to the F.B.I. data, which is collected from local police departments around the nation and released annually.
Police officials and criminologists continue to express puzzlement about the upsurge. There is disagreement not only about the reasons for the increases but also about how law enforcement should respond and whether the figures represent a blip or the start of a long-term trend. The figures come against a backdrop of steady crime reductions nationally during the last 25 years.
“This is ominous,” said Mark Kleiman, a criminologist at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management. “What you worry about is that the trend is broken, and the numbers are going to go back up. A 20 percent increase in homicides over the past two years is not trivial. We’ve got what looks like a serious problem here.”President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have said repeatedly that the nation is in the grip of a crime wave that requires more arrests and harsher penalties, including for
President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have said repeatedly that the nation is in the grip of a crime wave that requires more arrests and harsher penalties, including for non-violent crimes like drug possession.
Among the reasons cited for the increase are a profusion of handguns, poverty and social isolation, warring gangs involved in the drug trade, and police officers who are questioning fewer people and making fewer arrests for fear of being criticized by superiors and civil rights groups.
Each hypothesis has its detractors. But one theory that has gained traction of late is that violence has increased as police legitimacy has been questioned after the fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. The shootings, many of which have been captured on video over the last three years, have been widely disseminated via the news media and on the internet.
And although large cities — those with populations of more than a million people — saw homicides rise by 20.3 percent, and all violent crime increase by 7.2 percent in 2016, the trend toward greater violence was felt in cities and towns of all sizes. In towns with populations of fewer than 10,000 people, for instance, murders rose by 8.4 percent, according to the F.B.I. data.