Among reasons that have been cited for the increase: a profusion of handguns, poverty and social isolation; warring gangs involved in the drug trade; and police officers who are said to be questioning fewer people and making fewer arrests for fear of being criticized.
Violent crime, including homicides, rose for the second consecutive year in 2016, driven by increases in a few urban centers including Baltimore, Chicago and Las Vegas, according to FBI data released Monday.
Violent crimes increased nationally this past year by 4.1 percent and homicides rose by 8.6 percent, one year after violence increased by 3.9 percent and homicides jumped by 10.8 percent. A total of 17,250 people were killed in 2016, the FBI said.
While crime overall and violent crime remain well below their levels of the 1980s and 1990s, last year was the first time violent crime increased in consecutive years since 2005 and 2006, according to the FBI data, which is collected from local police around the nation and released annually.
The figures come against a backdrop of steady crime reductions nationally during the past 25 years.
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“This is ominous,” said Mark Kleiman, a criminologist at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management. “What you worry about is that the trend is broken, and the numbers are going to go back up. A 20 percent increase in homicides over the past two years is not trivial. We’ve got what looks like a serious problem here.”
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have said repeatedly that the nation is in the grip of a crime wave that requires more arrests and harsher penalties, including for nonviolent crimes like drug possession.
Trump, in his inauguration address in January, spoke of “American carnage” to describe the nation’s rate of killings, and Sessions has directed prosecutors to more aggressively charge those arrested, while blaming illegal immigration for much of the rise in violence.
Critics of the administration’s criminal-justice policies point out that despite the recent increases in violent crime, since 1971 there have been only five years with lower violent-crime rates than 2016.
“There are pockets of increased violence across the country that demand an increased response from all levels of government,” said Adam Gelb, director of the public safety project at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “But…