Headline news is ablaze with startling copy about serious spikes in violent crime, shootings, and homicides. Following a two-decade drop in crime, major cities across the United States are seeing violent crime skyrocket. Is your city among them?
The snapshot view is alarming*:
- Atlanta’s homicides are up 52%
- Baltimore reports an 82.5% increase in shootings
- Chicago has seen a 40% increase in shootings (with over 1435 to date)
- Milwaukee has experienced a 180% increase in homicides
- Houston’s murder rate has increased by 45%
- St. Louis homicides have jumped 59%
- New York City has a 15% increase in homicides
Many pundits attribute a “Ferguson effect” in an attempt to explain these numbers—where criminals are more brazen and police are more cautious in fighting crime. Others specifically cite the war on cops as the culprit for the crime spike. It would be logical to see police officers scale back on proactive policing while facing an onslaught of anti-cop rhetoric.
But is the spike in violent crime seen in some cities representative of a larger, nationwide picture? Not necessarily.
A recent op-ed by Dr. John R. Lott Jr., (author, economist and former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission) paints an entirely different picture. Of the 15 largest U.S. cities, violent crime rose in 8 cities and fell in 7 cities. Comparing this year’s January-to-May murder data with last year’s, he found:
- San Jose’s murder rate fell by 59%
- Jacksonville’s fell by 31%
- Indianapolis’ fell by 28%
- San Antonio’s fell by 25%
- Los Angeles’ fell by 15%
There is certainly something unusual happening in the cities that are seeing large spikes in murders. But in some of these cities, New York for example, while the murder rate rose by 15%, there was a 5.5% drop in total violent crime and 7.5% decline in property crime.
According to Lott, “These declines suggest something is occurring that is more complicated than police simply being afraid to do their jobs. After all, why would police pulling back from their jobs cause more murders but fewer robberies?”
He certainly makes an interesting point and happens to be the only one in the media who is not simply cherry picking the cities to illustrate a narrative of his/her choosing—often leading to more calls for gun control.
Perhaps it is too early to draw a clear conclusion with respect to a nationwide “trend.” And crime rates tend to increase in the summer months—data we won’t see until late fall. As 2015 draws to a close and the annual numbers are compiled, a truer picture will emerge. For now, we’re left with a puzzling trend. It’s worth noting that statistics for the cities with an increase in homicides have risen at nearly twice the rate when compared to cities cities that experienced a decline in the murder rate.
Research I completed years ago illustrated strong correlations to murders and violent crime based on several criteria including: (1) total population, (2) population density, (3) inadequate infrastructure, (4) number of languages spoken, and (5) severity of weather. If you live in Houston, as I do, you hit the jackpot.
No matter where you live. Be smart, be safe, and train hard for the fight.
*Among the police departments who released statistics, the numbers reflected different periods. Some cities had compiled murder statistics through May, others just through April.