Criminal Justice

Preliminary FBI Data: Crime Steeply Declined in Early 2024

While the data is far from perfect, if the overall trend holds, violent crime could be back to pre-COVID levels by the end of the year.


Violent crime in the U.S. dropped by a significant amount in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the previous year, according to the FBI's Quarterly Uniform Crime Report.

The FBI data, which is collected from participating police departments across the country, shows that overall violent crime decreased by 15 percent nationally compared to the first quarter of 2023. "Murder decreased by 26.4 percent, rape decreased by 25.7 percent, robbery decreased by 17.8 percent, and aggravated assault decreased by 12.5 percent," the FBI reported. "Reported property crime also decreased by 15.1 percent."

There are major caveats with the data: It is preliminary and unaudited; police departments will likely report more incidents before it is finalized; and it only quantifies crimes that were reported, leaving out unreported incidents. Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys of crime victims show that fewer than half of violent crimes (excluding murder) and property crimes are reported to the police.

But it tracks with other early data from 2024. The Major Cities Chiefs Association released first-quarter data in May, based on a survey of 68 major metropolitan police departments, showing a 17 percent drop in murder.

Jeff Asher, a crime analyst, wrote in his Substack yesterday that the FBI's quarterly crime report "is almost certainly overstating that decline" but that the general trend would likely hold.

"Overall, my impression is that the trend direction shown in the FBI data through the first quarter is likely correct but that the overall percent changes are almost certainly overstated by a good bit," Asher wrote. "Violent and property crime are probably not down 15 percent nationally (which would be far and away the largest one year decline ever recorded in both categories), but they are likely down a healthy amount. Murder is down a ton, probably historically so at this point in the year, but probably not 25 percent nationally."

The decline of violent crime is politically significant for the criminal justice reform movement and its opponents. Although crime has been dropping since it spiked in 2020, public perception has gone the opposite direction; in a Gallup poll conducted late last year, 63 percent of respondents described the crime problem in the U.S. as either extremely or very serious, the highest percentage since the polling firm began asking the question in 2000.

Several Republican-dominated states like Louisiana and Kentucky have passed sweeping bills to roll back bipartisan criminal justice reforms, citing out-of-control crime, while politicians in blue states like Oregon and California are embracing tough-on-crime rhetoric in response to public fears.

The White House, meanwhile, is trying to convince voters that things are getting better.

"This progress we're seeing is no accident," President Joe Biden said in a White House press release. "My administration is putting more cops on the beat, holding violent criminals accountable, and getting illegal guns off the street—and we are doing it in partnership with communities. As a result, Americans are safer today than when I took office."

Of course, national crime trends do not bend to White House policies or how many times a president says "law and order," as former President Donald Trump found out.

But for whatever reason crime is dropping, it's good news for Americans. As Reason's Billy Binion wrote in May, "The situation could certainly take a turn for the worse. But should the data continue on the current trajectory, then the number of homicides seen in the U.S. will indeed be back to, or under, pre-COVID levels."