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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

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:

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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27 Comments

  1. Gerg

    I was disappointed that your post did not fulfill the promise of the headline. It didn’t actually explain *why* the murder rate in London was not higher than New York. I suppose that would make for a much longer post though.

    Reply
    • Dan Kaszeta

      Well, there are a huge number of reasons, but it is difficult to cover without writing a whole book. Availability of firearms is certainly a factor, as is the availability of ammunition and places to learn to shoot. The extent to which this accounts for the difference is, of course, a hotly debated one. London is not entirely free of gun crimes, but only a small percentage of those murders reported in London are from guns. There are likely a lot of medical factors involved as well. Overall, stabbings are more survivable with emergency care than many gunshot injuries, although, again, this would require a disquisition too lengthy for this venue.

      Reply
    • Christopher Gilmour

      The reason why the murder rate for London isn’t much higher is rather straightforward: not enough people are murdered.

      It would be a rather short article.

      Perhaps a corollary would be that the denominator is too large. If there were fewer people living in London and the number of murders stayed the same then murder-rate would be higher.

      Reply
  2. Dean Robb

    Hmmm sorry if you feel slighted and it is true it only crossed for awhile but would you like to discuss violent crime rates (robbery, rape assaults…) and burglary rates between the two? Pretty stunning that shows for example rapes in London are three times as high as NYC, burglaries more than six times as high….

    Reply
    • Phil Smith

      The point isn’t that the author feels slighted but to demonstrate how manipulation and misrepresentation of statistics can lead to misleading conclusions. You seem to be under the impression that the article is a defense of London rather than a defense of proper statistical practice.

      Reply
    • Dan Kaszeta

      Well, I don’t feel slighted. This isn’t a competition.

      As for your other comment, it’s actually quite a lengthy and difficult effort once you get beyond murder. I’d be curious to see which studies you reference. It gets very complicated for several reasons. One is that legal definitions of things like assault, robbery, and burglary are different, not just between the US and UK, but between US states. Another factor that complicates things is reporting rates. Not every rape, assault, burglary, or robbery is reported. So, how to account for unreported offenses? It’s not a simple matter. Perhaps I should refer you to some serious criminological works that try to dig into this.

      Reply
    • concerned citizen

      Thanks for that enlightening post Dean.

      So from this we can draw the reasonable and fact based conclusion that London has a problem with serious crime in general, much worse than New York.

      There certainly seem to be a lot of stabbings in London, I suppose most of them fortunately aren’t fatal.

      Reply
      • Ron

        No, concerned citizen, we can not draw that conclusion for the reason stated above your reply. The comparison is hard because the laws covering different offences are different between the two locations.

        Reply
    • A Passing Stranger

      Not really possible. The legal definitions differ too much and reporting rates are notably higher in the UK due to better confidence in law enforcement and better victim responses.

      Reply
  3. Grubbie

    Especially interesting are the steep slopes in the NY numbers between 1990-2000 and 2011-2013.What caused this?London’s present teenage knife problem appears to be grass cutting/terrible parenting related and as such very difficult to change,but something radical must have happened in NY.

    Reply
      • Ned Horvath

        There’s also a strong correlation between criminal activity and brain damage due to pica (consumption of lead-based paint). Lead-based paint was largely eliminated in the latter half of the 20th century in NYC and in the US generally. This factor may be more important than the (also correlated) changes in police activity in the same period.

        Reply
        • Ned Horvath

          (As usual, correlation does not “prove” causation, either in the lead-based paint case nor the altered policing case.)

          Reply
    • Nat

      Where is there any evidence of knife crime being related to parenting (I’ve no idea what grass-cutting means, although a quick search talks about fighting over girlfriends? Thats definately nothing to do with it!) .

      It’s related mostly to drug crime and gangs, probably social-political reasons playing their large part e.g. “austerity” cuts by government to policing, local authority provision of social amenities (such as youth groups, social services), cuts to school budgets (which make exclusions from schools more prevelant) etc etc That’s a political point and would also need proof, but it’s a common theory and held by many who have indeed provided the evidence.

      Reply
  4. Mad Dog

    NYC has become a cleaner and safer city over the years. As a frequent visitor since the 80’s, the difference is very palpable and the attraction of NYC has grown in my eyes. Sadly, the availability of guns from out of the city has kept the rate from falling even further and the present agenda of the US Gov’t is not going to make this any better. London, another place I have visited frequently, has become much more attractive as well, especially in the gourmet dept. This whole Brexit mess is liable to throw many of the advances I approved of out the window and may even help to increase the crime rate. Nice article Dan, will use it as backup when certain folks try to foist this London is worse idea on me!

    Reply
  5. CJ

    I’m glad to see that NY annual homicides have declined. I’d be interested in the possible reasons for the drop.

    Reply
  6. JustinB

    Just another mainstream media outlet spreading lies. A simple statistical analysis explains a lot. 😉

    Reply
    • Nat

      I disagree. They are not spreading lies – not deliberately. They are repeating claims which were actually true…

      HOWEVER, importantly the context was removed from the initial claim (we don’t know where it first appeared) . Not bothing to investigate context is more a factor of poor journalism, the need to fill pages and pages with articles quickly and without checks – this is the result of the financials behind much news media these days. They need to churn out stories for the fast, 24hr news cycle that consumers somehow demand. This essentially requires non-journalists to re-hash PR releases from organisations and pressure groups without scrutiny.

      Perhaps this report originated from an alt-right, pro-gun lobby in the US? There has been history of argument from pro-gun lobby about knife crime in the UK and supposed no-go areas when trying to divert attention away from gun crime in the US.. That’s just a personal theory I have no real evidence for.

      Reply
  7. Nat

    This was covered well by the BBC radio program More or Less. It’s a program that examines numbers and statistics in the news, examine their origins, their accuracy. It’s an excellent program, doing similar work as Bellingcat in a different field..

    Here is a link to the particular show, available as a podcast or directly from the BBC Radio website (BBC website requires registration, hence providing this podcast link).

    https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/bbc/more-or-less-behind-the-stats-7209/e/54015680

    Reply
    • Nat

      Essentially, this was thought to be newsworthy because many people are stuck in the past and see New York as a city with a very high murder rate. This view of New York is very much out of date – it now has a relatively low murder rate.

      Essentially, had context been given in the article, the headline would read:

      — London Temporarily Has as High a Murder Rate as Another Low-Murder Rate City, New York. —

      Not exactly a interesting or compelling headline is it? Nope, so they take out the context and play on ignorant views of both cities…

      Reply
  8. Kim

    A little late to this thread. I am the journalist who wrote the story about London vs. New York murder rates that Dan Kaszeta criticizes. I share his frustration about data reporting on this topic. However, I would like to point out that the story states quite clearly and very high up that London’s murder rate surpassed New York’s for those two months only. Here’s what the story says: “London tallied 15 murders in February and 22 in March, slightly more than New York City for the same two months, which logged 14 in February and 21 in March, according to murder rate statistics provided to USA TODAY by London’s Metropolitan Police and the New York Police Department. Overall London has so far in 2018 seen fewer killings than New York City: 47 versus 54. Both cities have similarly sized populations of about 9 million.” Then, later in the story, it is further pointed out the London’s murder rate on a yearly basis does not exceed London’s or in fact that of most other large American cities. No specific claims about this rate in connection to immigration, terrorism or gun laws are made. I don’t see how this “stretch(es) out” further claims about the two cities respective murder rates. In fact, the conclusions drawn are made by a respected British criminologist, who largely credits any increased levels in London to socio-economic factors.

    Reply

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