The number of violent crimes committed across the U.S. rose by 4 percent last year, and homicides increased even faster, by 11 percent, according to FBI crime data released Monday that reversed years of declining mayhem.
Despite the uptick, the Obama administration said the crime rate remains at near-record lows, with the data showing that violent crime is down 16.5 percent compared with a decade ago.
Law enforcement agencies reported more than 1.1 million violent crimes last year, including 15,696 homicides. Property crime, which has decreased more than 20 percent over the past 10 years, dropped another 2.6 percent.
The FBI released the data just hours before the first presidential debate between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Crime has surfaced as a campaign issue, with Mr. Trump casting himself as the “law and order candidate” and promising to fight crime by providing further support for police. Mrs. Clinton has pushed for stricter gun control laws and called for national guidelines on officers’ use of force.
While criminologists expected the FBI’s uniform crime report numbers to get play during Monday’s debate, they said it was difficult to draw conclusions about a trend from a single-year fluctuation.
Crime upticks from 2004 to 2006 generated similar concern after a decade of declines, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College.
“Everyone started to panic, there was all sorts of speculation, and then it started back down again in 2007 and 2008, and it just plummeted from there,” Mr. Butts said of the overall decline in crime rates. “On a year-by-year basis, you can’t overreact or over-infer.”
The White House touted the statistics as “near historic lows” that were favorable to President Obama.
“The numbers indicate that since President Obama took office, the violent crime rate has fallen 15 percent,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “The country is safer, as measured by the violent crime rate, than it was in any year under the previous four presidents.”
In recent days, the White House has downplayed Mr. Obama’s ability to limit protests in major cities, which have sometimes turned violent over police shootings of minorities, saying policing is a local matter. But the White House said Mr. Obama is proud of his administration’s role in keeping crime rates lower compared with previous decades.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Monday morning during a speech in Little Rock, Arkansas, that the violent crime uptick shows law enforcement agencies still have work to do.
“But the report also reminds us of the progress that we are making. It shows that in many communities, crime has remained stable or even decreased from the historic lows reported in 2014,” she said. “And it is important to remember that while crime did increase overall last year, 2015 still represented the third-lowest year for violent crime in the past two decades.”
An analysis of crime data in 30 cities, released last week by the Brennan Center, found that a 14 percent increase in homicides in 2015 was driven primarily by upticks in three cities: Chicago, Baltimore and the District of Columbia. But examining available data from this year, the report indicates that homicides are continuing at the same high pace only in Chicago.
“A few cities are seeing murders increase, causing the national murder rate to rise,” the report states. “In Chicago, murder is projected to rise significantly, while crime rates fluctuate unevenly in the rest of the country. These local challenges call for close attention. But there is not a nationwide crime wave, or rising violence across American cities.”
The FBI collects uniform crime data annually from more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.
It also provides insight into how many crimes are solved and the number of arrests from police departments.
Despite the divergent trends in violent and property crime last year, clearance rates for both categories dropped.
Police cleared 46 percent of violent crimes last year compared with 47.4 percent in 2014. For property crimes, 19.4 percent were cleared in 2015 compared with 20.2 percent in 2014.
Crimes are “cleared” when a suspect is arrested and charged and the case is turned over to a court for prosecution, regardless of whether the person is convicted in court. Crimes also can be considered cleared by exceptional means, such as when a suspect is identified but dies before being charged.
Agencies reported more than 10.7 million arrests last year. More people were arrested for drug violations than for either violent or property crimes. The FBI reported 1,488,707 arrests for drug use, 1,463,390 arrests for property crimes and 505,681 for violent crimes.
The majority of those arrested, 69.7 percent, were white and 26.6 percent were black.