WASHINGTON — Violent crime increased in the United States for a second consecutive year in 2016, remaining near historically low levels but pushed upward in part by an uptick in killings in some major cities, according to FBI statistics made public Monday.
The FBI's release of the figures comes as the Trump administration has warned ominously of a dangerous crime wave. In his inaugural address, President Donald Trump described "American carnage" in U.S. cities, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier this year he worried the crime uptick was "the beginning of a trend."
Some experts and analysts have disputed that suggestion, noting that crime levels were much higher a quarter-century ago. In some major cities, violence has surged, while in others it has declined. Chicago, a much-cited example, saw a spike in murders last year; killings have continued to drop in New York.
The FBI statistics for 2016 show that the estimated number of violent crimes nationwide increased 4.1 percent over the previous year. The violent crime rate was 386.3 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 373.7 a year earlier, and the highest figure since 2012. The murder rate increased to 5.3 per 100,000 people, the highest that figure has been since 2008.
In both cases, these numbers are well below figures seen during previous decades. Going back to the mid-1980s, the violent crime and murder rates were both consistently higher, particularly in the early 1990s. In 1991, for instance, the violent crime rate was 758.2 per 100,000 people and the murder rate was 9.8 per 100,000 people, after which both numbers began to fall, albeit with some year-over-year increases.
The FBI considers four crimes - murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - to be violent crimes involving force or the threat of force.
Looking more recently, the statistics released Monday show that the violent crime rate in 2016 was down 18 percent from 2007, while the murder rate was down 6 percent over the same period.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a New York-based law and policy institute, said Monday that the murder rate increase was fueled by an uptick in killings in some the country's largest cities - with Chicago accounting for more than a fifth of the nationwide murder increase last year.
"The FBI's data show trends similar to what we've found for crime, murder, and violence in 2016," Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center's Justice Program, said in a statement Monday. "Crime remains near historic lows, with an uptick in murder and violence driven in part by problems in some of our nation's largest cities. At the same time, other cities like New York are keeping crime down."
In a message accompanying the statistics, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray focused largely on increasing transparency, particularly when it comes to how police use force, an issue that has roiled the country in recent years. He noted that the FBI had created a database to collect use-of-force statistics for law enforcement, which will include any encounter that ends with a person killed, seriously injured or when a gun is fired at them.
"Our goal is that this data will lead to more informed and accurate discussions within our communities and the media and that these discussions will foster more transparency and improve communications between law enforcement and the communities they serve," Wray wrote.
The FBI's statistics on deadly uses of force by police have long been known to be incomplete. The FBI reported that last year, 435 people were killed in justifiable homicides by law enforcement officers. The Washington Post's database tracking police shootings, launched in part due to the lack of any federal system logging such killings, found at least 963 fatal shootings carried out by police officers last year.
Sessions has tied the increase in violent crime to "undermined" respect for police officers and, in a recent speech, connected Chicago's crime rates to the city's policies on undocumented immigrants, a contention disputed by the police there.
In other categories, the FBI statistics showed positive signs. Property crimes dropped by 1.3 percent, the data show, the 14th consecutive year that figure fell. Burglary and larcenies fell, the FBI reported. But along with murder and non-negligent manslaughter, the FBI reported that rape and aggravated assault both increased in 2016.
The FBI's data was compiled in an annual report called "Crime in the United States," which collects information reported voluntarily by law enforcement agencies to the bureau's Uniform Crime Reporting Program.