Sunday, January 28, 2024

How Accurate Are Murder Rates Published by FBI?

 During the New Jersey assault weapons ban suit, the state's murder expert Randy Roth, challenged my use of FBI murder rates by state, claiming that rural states greatly underreport murders.  That there is underreporting is without question: reporting to the FBI by police departments is voluntary.

The more meaningful measure is death certificate data gathered by CDC.  This article examines the data and it is interesting:

The report concludes that the death certificates “consistently” show “a higher number and rate of homicides in the United States compared” to the FBI data, “likely due to the differences in coverage and scope and the voluntary versus mandatory nature of the data collection as described above.”

The FBI tries to account for incomplete coverage by estimating the number of murders that aren’t reported to the FBI, but over the past decades, this process has yielded about 1,500–2,700 less murders per year than homicides listed on death certificates...

On the other hand, death certificates tend to overcount murders because they include justifiable homicides by civilians acting in self-defense, which are not murders. Such cases amounted to about 2.5% of homicides in 2015–2019.

Death certificates also include some justifiable homicides by police, even though these are supposed to be coded as “legal intervention deaths,” not as homicides. A study of 16 states during 2005–2012 suggests that such miscoded cases accounted for roughly 1.7% of homicides.

If the two rates above are currently applicable to the nation as a whole, the actual number of murders is about 4.2% less than the number of homicides recorded on death certificates.

FBI underreports murders but not dramatically. 

I have since looked at CDC homicide rates (which includes justifiable and excusable homicides by civilians and police) for 2016.  CDC homicide rate for U.S. was 5.9/100,000 vs. FBI 4.9/100,000.   Not all of that difference was lawful homicides of course, but underreporting at least nationally is not that severe.


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