Confirming widespread perceptions, the nation’s largest crime survey finds that violent crime in urban areas rose dramatically from 2020 to 2021. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the statistical arm of the Department of Justice, recently released findings from the 2021 National Crime Victimization Survey. According to the NCVS, which dates to the Nixon administration, the rate of violent crime rose only in urban areas. It did not change to a statistically significant degree in suburban or rural areas.

The NCVS involves about a quarter of a million interviews each year with a nationally representative sample of U.S. residents. The federal government’s field agents ask respondents whether they were the victim of a crime within the past six months. According to the NCVS, violent crime in urban areas rose 29 percent from 2020 to 2021, from 19.0 to 24.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons aged 12 or older.

From 2018 through 2020, the NCVS found that the violent-crime rate in urban areas was between 29 percent and 42 percent higher than the rate in rural areas. In 2021, however, the violent-crime rate in urban areas was 121 percent higher, more than doubling the rate in rural areas (24.5 victimizations in urban areas, versus 11.1 in rural areas, per 1,000 persons). In addition, the violent-crime rate in urban areas was 48 percent higher in 2021 than in suburban areas, more than tripling any difference in urban and suburban rates registered from 2018 to 2020. The property-crime rate in urban areas was nearly twice as high in 2021 as in suburban areas (157.5 to 86.8 victimizations per 1,000 households) and nearly three times as high as in rural areas (157.5 to 57.7 victimizations per 1,000 households).

These statistics do not include murder, as murder victims obviously can’t answer a crime survey. In 2020, according to FBI statistics, the nationwide murder rate rose 27 percent, the largest percentage increase in at least 100 years—higher even than during the surge of violence at the start of Prohibition (see page 414 in this census report, page 83 in the PDF). In cities such as Minneapolis, Portland, and New York, the increase was even greater, as former attorney general Jeff Sessions has noted.

While the Census Bureau does not officially distinguish urban areas from suburban areas, BJS does. As is explained in detail in Classification of Urban, Suburban, and Rural Areas in the National Crime Victimization Survey, BJS classifies most cities that stand at the center of a major metropolitan area, as well as many other densely populated places, as urban. BJS delineates urban and suburban areas using a measurement called “weighted housing-unit density,” essentially a measure of how closely people live to one another. The overall weighted housing-unit density for the United States is 2,396 housing units per square mile (based on the 2010 Census). Among cities with populations of at least 50,000 people (as of 2010), the 15 U.S. cities (or Census-designated places) with the highest levels of urban density—based on weighted housing-unit density—are as follows:

  1. New York, N.Y. (weighted housing-unit density of 29,345 housing units per square mile)
  2. Hoboken, N.J. (25,870)
  3. Union City, N.J. (20,477)
  4. San Francisco, Calif. (17,316)
  5. Miami Beach, Fla. (17,063)
  6. Jersey City, N.J. (13,837)
  7. Honolulu, Hawaii (13,756)
  8. Boston, Mass. (12,708)
  9. Chicago, Ill. (11,429)
  10. Arlington, Va. (10,485)
  11. Cambridge, Mass. (10,377)
  12. Washington, D.C. (10,115)
  13. Miami, Fla. (9,887)
  14. Somerville, Mass. (9,770)
  15. Philadelphia, Pa. (9,706)

    (Note: Los Angeles, at 6,961, is 30th.)

Beyond providing geographical breakdowns on crime, the NCVS asks crime victims about the demographics of those who committed the crimes against them. For violent crimes in which the victim could identify the race or ethnicity of the offender, 66 percent of white victims said that the person who perpetrated the crime against them was also white. That’s similar to (1.1 times) the percentage of the overall (over-12) population that is white (61 percent). In comparison, 34 percent of Hispanic victims said that the perpetrator of the crime against them was also Hispanic, which is nearly double (1.9 times) the overall percentage of the (over-12) population that is Hispanic (18 percent). Most strikingly, 71 percent of black victims said that the perpetrator of the crime against them was also black—5.9 times the overall percentage of the (over-12) population that is black (12 percent).

While black Americans are often the victims of intra-racial crime, white or Hispanic offenders commit comparatively few violent crimes against black victims. According to the 2021 NCVS, 6.9 times as many violent crimes were committed by black offenders against white victims (480,030) as by white offenders against black victims (69,850). In comparison, essentially the same number of crimes were committed by whites against Hispanics as vice versa (1.0 times as many in either direction). Again, that’s according to the victims.

Like the 2020 Census, the 2020 NCVS was at least somewhat compromised by Covid policies (outside of BJS’s control) that kept the federal government’s field agents from going door-to-door and interviewing people for most of that spring, all that summer, and part of that fall. Some of the unfortunate effects of these policies likely carried over to the 2021 NCVS. Thus, comparisons between overall pre-2020 NCVS crime rates and the 2020 and 2021 crime rates are probably not as reliable as one might hope. But comparisons across the past few years of where crimes most often occurred were likely not as affected—as the impact of not being able to go door-to-door was not limited to one type of area (urban, suburban, or rural). The same is likely true for the demographics of victims and offenders, as the inability to go door-to-door affected all races and ethnicities.

The rise in crime in urban areas hasn’t resulted from random chance. It’s a product of the powers that be in major cities having willfully ignored the lessons across the decades that Broken Windows policing works, and that indulging general disorder leads not only to squalor but also to rising violent crime. At some point, cities’ residents will demand that their fellow citizens be held accountable for their actions and for upholding basic human expectations, instead of indulging in the fantasy that everyone but the victims is a victim. Until then, expect more statistics on urban crime like those in this year’s NCVS.

Photo by Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images


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