Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Joe Biden is right when he says violent crime is near its lowest level in fifty years

By Vaseline May30,2024

As President Joe Biden runs for re-election, Republicans have argued that he is responsible for high crime rates. Biden has responded by saying that violent crimes have actually fallen under his watch.

In his May 15 remarks at a National Police Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol, Biden told officers and other attendees: “You risk your life every day for the safety of the people you don’t even know. you are all a hero. It is no coincidence that violent crime is near its lowest level in 50 years.”

Official FBI data on crime often lags, but available measurements show that overall violent crime has declined during Biden’s presidency. But is violent crime “near 50-year lows,” as Biden said?

We checked the FBI records and found he was on target.

The White House did not respond to a request for this article.

The FBI’s definition of violent crime consists of four types of crimes: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Over the past sixty years, the FBI’s methodology has changed in small ways, making longer-term comparisons apples and oranges. Notably, in 2013 the FBI changed the definition of rape to expand the types of physical contact that are considered rape. This means that recent data on rape shows more cases, making the total number of violent crimes higher than under the old definition.

To test Biden’s claim, we used a series of FBI crime data collected by Jeff Asher, an analyst for AH Datalytics. Asher collected the data from 1960 to 2022 and used data for the original definition of rape to allow for an apples-to-apples comparison over time.

Overall, violent crime rose in the 1970s and 1980s, peaked in 1991 and has declined since then, according to his analysis. Interest rates have seen some upward spikes, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, but remain much lower than at their peak in the early 1990s.

There are two ways to determine which time period to use when analyzing the FBI data. It could cover the 50 years from 1972 to 2022 (the most recent 50 years available in FBI full-year data) or the 48 years from 1974 to 2022 (using 1974 because it was 50 years from the time that Biden made the claim).

We looked at the FBI data analyzed by Asher for both periods, and using both periods, Biden is correct that the 2022 data is “near” a 50-year low.

In 1972 there were 401 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants; in 1974 there were 461 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Both data points are higher than the 2022 figure of just under 370 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

The year 2022 would have been the absolute lowest in violent crime in the past 50 years, except for two marginal declines below 2022 levels, in 2014 and 2019. (In both years, the violent crime rate was 364 per 100,000).

Other types of crime statistics, including the National Crime Victimization Survey, show that current levels of violent crime are much lower than the peaks in the early 1990s.

If the preliminary decline seen in the private sector’s 2023 estimate keeps pace with the full-year FBI data, the 2023 FBI figure would fall to the lowest level in the past 50 years, said Asher.

“A decline in violent crime of virtually any magnitude would result in the rate being lower in 2023 than in 2014 and 2019,” Asher said.

But Biden’s statement described it as “close” to a 50-year low, which is accurate.

“Biden’s statement about violent crime is absolutely true,” said criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University. “Despite a spike in homicides in 2020 amid the rise of COVID, even homicides have declined.”

PolitiFact’s statement

Biden said: “Violent crime is at its lowest level in 50 years.”

The FBI’s violent crime rate for 2022, the last officially available year, was 370 per 100,000 residents. Since 1972, the number of violent crimes has only been lower in two years: 2014 and 2019.

Preliminary estimates for 2023 show that the number of violent crimes will continue to decline. And if that holds true in the final FBI data, 2023 will be downright the lowest year for violent crime in fifty years.

We rate the statement as True.

Our sources

  • Joe Biden, remarks at a national police memorial service, May 15, 2024
  • Council on Criminal Justice, “Crime Trends in US Cities: Update Late 2023,” January 2024
  • Council on Criminal Justice, “The Footprint: Tracking the Size of America’s Criminal Justice System,” February 2024
  • National Crime Victims Survey, dashboard, accessed May 24, 2024
  • PolitiFact, “No, Crime Has Not ‘Skyrocketed’ Under Joe Biden as Rep. Nancy Mace Claimed,” April 3, 2024
  • Email interview with Jenifer Warren, director of media relations at the Council on Criminal Justice May 21, 2024
  • Email interview with Jeff Asher, an analyst at AH Datalytics, May 21, 2024
  • Email interview with Candace S. McCoy, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, May 25, 2024
  • Email interview with James Alan Fox, Northeastern University criminologist, May 24, 2024

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