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An annual FBI report says violent crime rates rose in 2016, but they're still lower than a decade ago. Video provided by Newsy Newslook

Police crime scene.(Photo: Detroit Free Press file photo)

DETROIT — Detroit regained the title as the most violent big city in America in 2016, witnessing more murders last year than Los Angeles, which has four times as many people, according to new FBI crime figures released Monday.

But Detroit Police Chief James Craig disputed the FBI’s numbers, stating: “Just because it’s coming out of the FBI” doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

“I reject it,” Craig said of the FBI report, saying his own data using a new software system shows violent crime went down 5% in 2016, and, has been trending downward since 2013. 

“I am confident the Detroit police crime statistics are very accurate,” Craig said at a press conference Monday.

Mayor Mike Duggan declined comment.

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Specifically, Craig took issue with the FBI’s number for aggravated assaults in Detroit, which he said is inflated by more than 1,000. According to the FBI data, Detroit saw 9,882 assaults in 2016, but the DPD data says there were 8,916.

According to the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime report, 13,705 violent crimes — including murders, rapes, assaults and robberies — were reported in Detroit last year.  That’s a 15.7% increase from the year before, which saw 11,346 violent crimes in Detroit.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)

The jump gave the Motor City the designation of No. 1 on the list of most violent cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 100,000.  Behind Detroit, rounding out the top five most violent big cities are St. Louis at No. 2, followed by Memphis, Baltimore and Rockford, Ill., according the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report.

In 2015, St. Louis held the title as most violent city in the country. Detroit ranked No. 2, even though it had seen a 13% drop in violent crime that year. This year, the two cities switched positions, with Detroit taking the top spot again.

Here are some findings from the report:

• Detroit saw 303 murders in 2016, compared to 295 the year before — a 3% increase.  In comparison,  Los Angeles, which has  4 million people compared to Detroit’s 669,000 — saw 295 murders in 2015. That’s eight fewer than Detroit.

• Detroit, however, didn’t have the highest murder rate. That title went to St. Louis, which had  a rate of 60 murders per 100,000 people in 2016. Baltimore was second with  a rate of 51 murders per 100,000. Detroit was third, with 45 murders per 100,000 residents. 

• In 2016, Detroit saw 579 rapes; 9,882 aggravated assaults; and 2,941 robberies.

Craig said the FBI’s numbers are off, largely because of an old computer system called CRISNET, which was replaced in December.  

Here’s how it used to work under the old system: Detroit police entered numbers into CRISNET. The numbers were picked up by the Michigan State Police, who reported them to the FBI.

Craig said some crimes were double-reported under the old system — either through human error or because a crime was mischaracterized. For example, a crime looks like a murder, but turns out to be a suicide, he said. Or a robbery gets reported into the system, but another officer says it’s a larceny. 

Craig said in the past, his department alerted the FBI when it spotted a discrepancy, even when the numbers weren’t in Detroit’s favor. For example, he said, twice the FBI’s numbers showed declines for aggravated assaults in Detroit, when there were  actual increases.

“We were transparent and honest when they were underreported,” Craig said, adding “and now we want to do the same thing.”

Craig said that DPD tried to alert the FBI about the mistake in assault numbers for 2016, but was told the reporting deadline had passed and that the CRISNET numbers would   have to do.

“Over the last several of years we’ve had a number of calls with the FBI and Michigan State police. They know it,” Craig said, stressing the new report that ranks Detroit as most violent city is “very, very troubling.”

But he did not dispute the FBI’s homicide numbers for Detroit, which saw 303 homicides in 2016, compared with 295 the year before.

“I’ve said oftentimes that 300 murders is still too high for a city of our population,” Craig said. “But they is — since 2013, we continue to trend downward.”

Craig said Detroit’s crime reporting system had been a thorn in his side since he took over as chief in 2013. But fortunately, he said, there’s a new system in place that’s been overseen by Wayne State University crime statistic expert David Martin.

According to Craig, Martin scrubbed the old CRISNET system, fixed mistakes and plugged accurate numbers into the new system that shows a 5% decrease in violent crime. 

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According to Craig, as of Monday, Detroit has seen 212 homicides this year, compared with 219 at this same time last year. Carjackings are also down for the same time period, as are robberies, non-fatal shootings and property crime, Craig said.

“Overall crime — as of Sept. 24 — is down 7%,” Craig said, noting the department’s goal is to reduce overall crime this year by 5%. “We just want to hold on so that we can keep our  numbers down.” 

In releasing the statistics, the FBI cautioned against ranking cities, stating: “These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”

Nationwide, violent crimes also went up for the second consecutive year. According to the FBI data, the number of violent crimes rose 4.1% in 2016 from the year before. On the flip side, property crimes dropped 1.3% in 2016,  marking the 14th straight year for a decrease in that crime category.

The FBI’s data is based on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies. Of the 18,481 agencies eligible to participate in the project, 16,782 submitted data in 2016. 

Here are some findings:

• In 2016, the nation saw 1.2 million violent crimes.

• Murder and non-negligent manslaughter offenses increased 8.6% from 2015 to 2016.

• Aggravated assault and rapes offenses increased 5.1% and 4.9%, respectively, and robbery increased 1.2%.

• Nationwide, there were an estimated 7,919,035 property crimes. Burglaries dropped 4.6%, larceny-thefts declined 1.5%, but motor vehicle thefts rose 7.4%.

• Law enforcement agencies nationwide made 10.7 million arrests, excluding those for traffic violations, in 2016.

Contributing: Gina Damron, Detroit Free Press. Follow Tresa Baldas on Twitter: @Tbaldas