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Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics: Why London’s Murder Rate Is Not Higher Than NYC’s

March 20, 2019

By Dan Kaszeta

Translations: Русский

On April 3, 2018, an article in USA Today stated that the murder rate in London exceeded that of New York City for the first time. A large numbers of articles and posts have since repeated this claim.

These various articles and posts continue to be cited as evidence that London is more dangerous/violent than New York. Social media posts have amplified this claim, and taken it from a singular statement noting a particular odd situation valid for a short period of time, stretching it into making broader claims. Some commentators have used a “London has more murders than New York City” false narrative to make various points about immigration, terrorism, and gun laws.

Was The Claim True?

In the narrowest sense, the claim was actually true for a short period of time. There was a short stretch in early 2018 in which there were fewer than expected murders in New York City and an unusually high number of murders in London.  This occurred in February and March of 2018.  However, even during that quarter-year, there were more murders in New York City than London due to a great disparity in January of 2018.

The media eventually reversed course. Later, several articles correctly stated that the murder rate had reverted back to the historical average, with London having fewer murders.

How To Do A Murder Rate Comparison

The fair way to compare murders is on a per capita basis, and one generally accepted method is numbers of murders per year per 100,000 of population.  Annual rates are more statistically useful for murder rates than daily, weekly, or even monthly rates.

Even in the large cities like London and New York, murders are not always a daily event. There may be days or even weeks without murders, and they are not always evenly spread across the calendar.

There simply are not enough murders in either city for daily or weekly figures to be considered accurate portrayals.  There are individual days on the calendar when there is a murder in New York and not one in London, or vice versa.

If one were to engage in statistical cherrypicking you could say that the murder rate is infinitely higher in New York or infinitely higher in London on a particular day. It would, statistically, be true. But practically, it would be meaningless. The fair way to do comparisons of murder rates for such cities is via an annual rate, whether it be for a calendar year or a 12 month rolling average.

First, to do this fairly, one has to consider population figures. The New York City versus London comparison is often made because the populations of the two cities are roughly comparable. However, the last census in the U.S. was in 2010 and the last one in the UK was in 2011. Therefore, population estimates are useful for this work, although we should always keep in mind that these are estimated figures.

The most recent official estimated figure for New York City’s population is 8,622,298 as of July 1, 2017.  The official estimated figure for greater London at the same point in time was 8,825,001.  These figures will be used for calculation of relative rates as they are from the exact same point in time and based on official figures. (Note: If someone has a more recent data set for both cities on the same date, please contact me via the comments section and I will update accordingly.

Getting to the bottom of murder rates, comparatively speaking, should not be too hard. Unlike some statistics, it is relatively easy to make a one-for-one comparison — a dead body is a dead body.  Dead bodies, particularly ones that are dead because someone committed a murder, are counted and categorised. Articles are writteen about them. In the U.S. and UK, murders rarely go un-reported or under-reported.

Other categories of crime, such as assaults and frauds, are far more difficult to compare, as many crimes go unreported and definitions vary widely.  What constitutes an assault varies from state to state in the U.S., so even internal comparisons are difficult.

Data Sources

For the essential test case of Greater London versus New York City, there are excellent sources of data.  The London Metropolitan Police statistics website (here) has both current and historic figures.  The New York City Police Department has a similar website (here) with very good statistics.

It can be difficult to do a direct comparison at times, as the London statistics are reported on a monthly basis and it is often weeks before the previous month’s statistics are posted.  New York’s, on the other hand, are updated every week. As the weeks do not usually correspond with the end of the month, getting the figures to overlap exactly is not always easy.

It is also important to note that the London Metropolitan Police area does not cover the City of London. This is often confusing to people outside of London or outside the UK.  The City of London is only a small (2.9 square kilometres) part of greater London, comprising what had been Roman and Medieval London. It is now, principally, a financial district. It has a separate governance structure and a separate, much smaller, police force, the City of London Police. The City’s actual population of residents is quite low, estimated at less than 10,000 people in 2018.  Murders in the City of London are rare, but not unheard of. There was one in 2018.

What Was The Situation In 2018?

According to New York’s figures, there were 295 murders in 2018.  This yields a murder rate of 3.42 per 100,000 population in 2018.

According to London figures, there were 128 murders in 2018 in the London Metropolitan Police boroughs of Greater London, i.e. everything except the City. The Daily Mail claimed a total number of murders in greater London as 134, and the Telegraph also repeated this figure. This figure of 134 includes one murder from the City of London.  I cannot account for the discrepancy between the 128 and 133 figures for the Metropolitan Police. However, assuming the higher figure of 134 murders as correct, the murder rate for London for 2018 is 1.52 per 100,000 population.

We can therefore see that New York’s murder rate was actually more than twice than that of London’s.

The situation for 2019 shows an even starker difference in murders than 2018. New York has had 53 murders in the period from January 1 to March 3, 2019. During the first two months of 2019, London has had 16 murders.  The 3-day discrepancy in the reporting periods is due to the difference between monthly and weekly rates not exactly lining up (March data for London was not yet published as this report was drafted on March 18, 2019).

Terrorism Deaths

Several accounts on social media have claimed that the 2018 figures for London are artificially low because they do not include deaths from terrorism.  This is rather a pointless argument as the number of terrorism deaths in London in 2018 was zero.

State of New York vs City of New York

Various interlocutors on social media have tried to confuse the state of New York with the City of New York. This makes for an unfair comparison as New York state has a much larger area and population than London, whereas both London and New York City are densely populated cities of approximately equal population.

For the record, New York State had 547 murders in 2017, yielding a murder rate of 2.8 per 100,000 population (the comparable report for 2018 is not yet available).

Historic Trends

This graphics, meanwhile, show the general historic trends in New York City and London, and are useful for making historic comparisons:

 

Update as of June 2019:

As this issue continues to come up on social media, here are the updated figures as of the end of May 2019.  So far, in 2019 through 2 June, London has had 53 murders.  Through 27 May 2019, New York City has reported 103 murders.

Dan Kaszeta

Dan is the managing director of Strongpoint Security Ltd, and lives and works in London, UK. He has 27 years experience in CBRN response, security, and antiterrorism.

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49 Comments

  1. june

    comparing murder rates between london and new york is whataboutism. if your relative is murdered in london no one will be comforted by the fact they *would’ve* had a greater chance of being murdered in nyc still.

    congrats on finding anecdotal evidence that acid attacks occured in nyc. i thought this article was about statistics.

    if japanese people were as obsessed with comparing tokyo to london as brits are with comparing london to nyc arbitrarily they would never step foot in your country with murder rates 10x higher than their own.

    Reply
    • Dan Kaszeta

      To be honest, I’m not the person who started comparing London and New York. I am, if you look at what I am doing, commenting on other people who started the comparison. Feel free to direct your criticism at those other people.

      For what its worth, the only rational basis for doing this comparison is that the cities are roughly the same size.

      Reply
    • Bert

      Talk about missing the point. This article is about challenging the false statements from the USA. Would you rather let their lies reign supreme?

      Name a point in history when there’s been no murders. Name a country where there are no murders. Name a city where there are no murders. You can’t because there aren’t any and there never will be.

      All this was was the yanks, Trump and that pathetic excuse for a human being Katie Hopkins trying to wire into the London Mayor because he’s a Muslim.

      If Khan is a poor Mayor what does that make Trump when the murder rate in the USA is dozens of times higher than our own? It makes him a pathetic president and a complete shyster and what of the mugs who back Trump and Hopkins? Vermin.

      Reply
  2. Jon Hinchliffe

    For most people the rate of violent attacks on people not involved in criminal activity but simply going about their business is far more important . I believe there is no question that London is worse by far . I admire your analysis but you failed to mention that in the UK murders are only recorded ( this may have changed ) when someone is convicted of murder . The UK figures are therefore much lower as the authorities often plea bargaining murder down to lesser crimes . The true rate may well be double

    Reply
  3. Alan Dixon

    Interesting comments especially considering the US presidents comments about London’s Mayor. I think London’s violent crime needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency but the negative comments by outsiders should be put into perspective. This can be done with the NY – London statistical comparison.

    Reply
  4. David MOYLES

    Statistics and facts are irrelevant to Trump who has an absolute cheek to call anyone else a national embarrassment.

    Reply
  5. John McKay

    Trump’s post seems to have been prompted by a Texas “journalist” quoting the figures as the reason she’s too terrified to visit London. According to NBS there are at least 6 cities in Texas alone that have a much higher murder rate than London, including Houston with 11.7 per 100,000. She must live life in a permanent state of terror.

    Reply
    • Sarah Thompson

      Trump as according to the BBC has an “obsession” with Khan. It’s not difficult to work out why when he promotes comments from Katie Hopkins. I doubt he is as horrified and ashamed by the murder rates in his own “shithole” especially by”law enforcers”

      Reply
  6. Larry H

    For me, the most important statistic is change over time, where NYC wins hands down. Murders and crime generally are on a long term downtrend in NYC. In London, the trend is up.

    Secondly, in NYC, and other high murder rate U.S. cities, murders are typically contained to neighborhoods that often have historical social, racial and poverty issues.

    London has never had these issues, but still murders in London are on the increase, and across the whole of the city.

    In a welfare state, where guns are not readily available, the rise in murder in London is truly shocking. Killing someone with a knife is much more violent and personal than with a gun, and therefore cannot be compared to gun crime. Whilst the result may be the same, getting caught in crossfire is not nearly the same level of violence as being attacked and killed with a knife.

    As someone else commented, I would rather compare London to Tokyo, aiming for that standard, than settling for “well, it could be worse, it could be NYC, or perhaps Panama or Johannesburg”

    Reply
    • Guido

      This is incorrect. Have a look at the graph above. Since 2007 the number of murders in New York has decreased from 500 to 300, a reduction of 40%. During the same period London has seen a reduction from 180 to 100, which is the same in percentage terms.
      As to your second point, I live in London and I don’t give a hoot about whether someone kills me with a knife vs. a gun. I dislike both.

      Reply
    • Bert

      What do you think NYC’s murder rate would look like if their government had cut police numbers by almost 20%?

      Reply

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