The US homicide rate increased by nearly 8% last year, driving an increase of violent crime in the country for the second year in a row, according to new data released by the FBI on Monday.
Between 2014 and 2016, the nationwide homicide rate has increased more than 20%, and the 3.4% increase in the US violent crime rate from 2015 to 2016 was the largest single-year increase in 25 years, the Justice Department said.
The FBI report, "Crime in the US," is released annually and compiles the latest tally of crimes reported to local police. Crimes are measured in two categories, violent crime and property crime, encompassing the seven crimes considered major. According to the report, the property crime rate continued a years-long downward trend, decreasing 2% from 2015 to 2016. Put together, violent crime and property crime statistics reveal that overall crime has also continued to decrease into 2016.
Although violent crime rates remain dramatically lower than past peaks -- most recently in the early 1990s -- the new figures were quickly cited by the Trump administration as proof that its call to implement tougher criminal justice policies was necessary.
"For the sake of all Americans, we must confront and turn back the rising tide of violent crime. And we must do it together," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a Justice Department release. "The Department of Justice is committed to working with our state, local, and tribal partners across the country to deter violent crime, dismantle criminal organizations and gangs, stop the scourge of drug trafficking, and send a strong message to criminals that we will not surrender our communities to lawlessness and violence."
Communities of different sizes, from rural regions to suburbs to large urban centers, reported an increase in the number of violent crimes. Cities with a population of more than 1 million, the largest population subset measured in the FBI's report, saw the greatest uptick in violent crime at 7.2%. The number of murders in those large cities also soared, by the largest degree between population centers, increasing 20.3% from 2015 to 2016.
Beyond a narrative told by national statistics, violent crime continues to be concentrated in a handful of large cities and experts caution that local nuance is critical to understanding the overall increase.
Chicago alone accounted for about one-fifth of the national increase in murders, according to Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. And within Chicago, it's a small number of streets fueling that surge.
"About half of the homicide rise in Chicago took place in five neighborhoods," said John Pfaff, a professor of Law at Fordham University Law School. "Five neighborhoods in Chicago explain 10% of the national increase in homicide rates."
Sessions and President Donald Trump have been outspoken about their goal to cut crime in the United States. Specifically, Trump has talked and tweeted about crime in Chicago, sending some federal assistance to the city in June. His pledge to lower crime -- and criticism of the Obama administration's policies -- was a centerpiece of his campaign.
In a notable moment during his campaign, Trump tweeted that tragedies like the death of NBA star Dwyane Wade's cousin were one of the reasons African-Americans should vote for him, later adding that he would be able to fix inner-city problems.
"Dwayne Wade's cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!" he tweeted at the time.
In May, Sessions implemented new directive for federal prosecutors across the country to charge suspects with the most serious offense they can prove.
"Prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense ... those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences," Sessions said at the time.
He also discussed the FBI statistics before they were released on Friday in Boston, saying the data shows increases in violent crime, including murder, aggravated assault, rape and robberies.
Sessions has also focused his DOJ on combating the opioid epidemic, outlining in recent speeches a three-pillared plan to include treatment, enforcement and prevention. And while he has called prevention "the best-long term solution," the FBI has maintained hefty enforcement numbers as well. In 2016, an estimated 1.6 million arrests were made for drug abuse violations, the most for any measured type of crime. Drug offenses comprised the largest numbers of arrests in 2015 as well.
Sessions has regularly used dark rhetoric and grisly description to sound the alarm of a violent crime uptick in speeches this year. In Memphis in May, Sessions described families in a local apartment complex that "live every day as hostages in their own homes, facing potentially deadly violence just to walk to the bus."