The number of murders in the United States dropped just over 6 percent in 2022 compared with 2021, the F.B.I. said on Monday. Experts say preliminary data for 2023 indicates that the decline has accelerated this year.
The decline in homicides is an encouraging sign after the increase in killings nationwide in 2020, but the number of murders is still higher than it was in the years before the coronavirus pandemic. There were 25 percent more homicides in 2022 than in 2019.
And the F.B.I.’s annual crime report, released on Monday, underscores how pervasive gun violence has become and how it is costing more young lives.
Overall, violent crime was down slightly in 2022 over 2021, the report said. But firearms were used in almost half a million violent crimes across the country, about the same number as in 2021, the report said. The profile of the victims has shifted significantly. In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of death for American children, and in 2022 things became even worse: The number of children killed in shootings increased by almost 12 percent, and those wounded increased by almost 11 percent.
Property crimes, by contrast, increased by 7.1 percent, driven by a continuing rise in auto thefts, which reached nearly one million in 2022.
The numbers present a mixed picture for politicians who have sought to make crime an election issue and to portray the country — particularly its big, Democratic-leaning cities — as awash in danger and disorder. Carjackings have increased in some areas, and so has retail theft, which harms local businesses.
But by and large the data contradicts the narrative that the country is facing a continued surge of violence, and that efforts to rein in police abuses and reduce the nation’s incarceration rate are allowing crime to persist at high levels.
“That explanation starts to look a lot shakier when you start seeing declines in major offenses,” said Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
Still, perception has long been out of step with reality when it comes to public safety, with Americans consistently saying that they believe crime is on the rise even as the numbers have marched downward.
Last year, that perception gap seemed only to grow. In a Gallup survey, 56 percent of respondents said that crime in their area had increased, a record high on the heels of a sharp increase in that sentiment in 2021.
Public opinion on crime is also intensely partisan. That same Gallup poll showed that 73 percent of Republicans said that local crime had risen, compared with 51 percent of independents and 42 percent of Democrats.
Insha Rahman, vice president for advocacy and partnership at the Vera Institute of Justice, which seeks to increase public safety and end mass incarceration, said the crime trends showed that the huge investments in anti-violence programs over the past two years were having results.
Instead of increasing penalties for shoplifting and carjacking, she said, similar programs should be adopted to fight property crime. “We have an opportunity to not make the same mistake we have made many times over when it comes to the tough-on-crime approach,” Ms. Rahman said.
There are nuances in the property crime numbers, too. Car thefts were fueled by particular vulnerabilities in the anti-theft system in Kias and Hyundais; videos circulated on social media demonstrating the ease with which the vehicles could be stolen.
The estimated 7.8 percent increase in larceny, which includes shoplifting and other theft, may simply be a rebound after a pandemic-era dip, Mr. Grawert said
“People should not trivialize offenses like shoplifting because they really do impact communities, but the 2022 increase looks like a reversal of 2021,” he said.
The report estimated that there were 25,400 carjackings last year, up 8 percent over 2021, and that they were more likely to have occurred between 8 p.m. and midnight than at any other time. The F.B.I. is transitioning to a new data collection system that includes details such as the time and location of offenses.
Crime statistics released by the F.B.I. lag more than a year, in part because they rely on voluntary compliance by more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
But the F.B.I. earned some praise for issuing a report that was vastly improved over last year’s, which lacked data from jurisdictions that covered about 45 percent of the population. Cities like New York and large parts of the country, including Florida, were missing from that report because the F.B.I. had accepted data only under the new system, called the National Incident-Based Reporting System.
This year, the number of agencies using the new system increased to 13,293 from 11,794. But the F.B.I. also accepted data from jurisdictions still using the old system. In all, 15,724 police departments participated, covering 93.5 percent of the U.S. population. The agency uses estimates to fill in gaps in the data.