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January 3, 2015

More great news about declining homicide rates as we close book on 2014

As reported in this Washington Post piece, headlined "In major cities, murder rates drop precipitously," the end of 2014 has apparently brought a continuation of wonderful news about modern homicide trends.  Here are the basics:

In 1990, at the height of a decade-long crime wave that swept the nation, 2,245 people were murdered in New York City.  In 2014, police investigated just 328 homicides in the five boroughs — a precipitous drop of 85 percent that’s being duplicated in major cities across the country.  Preliminary figures suggest 2014 will continue a decade-long trend of falling crime rates, especially in major cities once plagued by violent crime.

Criminologists say the decrease is linked to several factors, some of which are the product of smart policing, others completely out of authorities’ control.  But they also say the lack of a consensus on what’s gone right has them convinced that crime rates could spike once again.   “I don’t think anyone has a perfect handle on why violence has declined,” said Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “So everyone is a bit nervous that things could turn around.”

But the numbers are encouraging: Chicago recorded an all-time high of 504 killings in 2012, but just two years later homicides were down to 392, and the overall crime rate has declined to its lowest rate since 1972.  Charlotte, N.C., recorded 42 killings last year, the lowest number since Mecklenburg County began keeping records in 1977.

Philadelphia’s murder rate has declined from 322 in 2012 to 245 this year. Just 19 slayings were recorded in San Jose, the nation’s 11th-largest city, down from 24 the year before. Even crime-plagued Detroit, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country, is improving: The 304 homicides recorded this year are down from 333 in 2013, the lowest rate since 2010 and the second-lowest number since 1967....

Mid-year statistics in Dallas showed the city on pace to record just half the murders of its peak in 2004. Camden, N.J., has seen the number drop by more than 50 percent since 2012.  Murders in Columbus, Ohio, hit a six-year low....

[T]he trend lines are clear: The number of violent crimes has declined since 2006, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.  The number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people has been dropping even longer, from a high of 758 in 1991 to 367.9 in 2013.  The rate hasn’t topped 500 per 100,000 people since 2001....

Not every major city is basking in the glow of lower crime rates. A rash of shootings between Dec. 23 and the end of the year brought the number of murders in Washington, D.C., to 105 in 2014, the second consecutive year of triple-digit murders, after the nation’s capital hit a half-century low in 2012.

The number of homicides in Los Angeles reached 254 last year, up four from 2013 and the first increase in 12 years.... Indianapolis, Austin, Pittsburgh, El Paso and Memphis all saw rates rise.

I have removed from this article a brief discussion of explanations that some folks give for these encouraging homicide numbers, in part because none of the standard (or not-so-standard) accounts for the factors impacting violent crime rates seem to be especially effective in explaining recent trends (save, maybe, the lead-crime-link data).  For example, these data would seem to undercut some empirical claims that executions are critical for deterring murders given that homicide rates keep falling in states and regions that have recently abolished the death penalty de jure or de facto.  Also, all this good 2014 homicide news could be a joyful by-product of the especially cold winters and/or not-so-hot summer experienced in many locales in 2014.

Whatever help causally account for all this good news, I hope we can  and will (by design or by accident) continue doing whatever seem to be working.  But I fear there are too many diverse and intersecting variables in play to have too much confidence in any specific public policies accounting for all the modern criminal justice good data news.

Some recent and older related posts:

January 3, 2015 at 07:42 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Certainly thewse trends are multi-factorial.

No mention of improved trauma care from Bush's wars.

No mention of he SC theory, of Decreased Fecundity of People in Stir, the so called DFOPIST.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 3, 2015 10:29:17 PM

I am inclined to think there are diverse variables and the solutions are complex and open to various permutations (cf. argument by one person at Prawblawg that certain police tactics was the true key). As to "executions are critical for deterring murder" -- it is hard for me to believe this given the small numbers of executions. Murder in general doesn't get you a death sentence. Only a small fraction of them do. At best, I'd think this fraction would be affected. I have my doubts about that & everything useful isn't allowed any way (or without serious costs we should avoid).

Posted by: Joe | Jan 4, 2015 10:09:29 AM

This national trend does not apply to my hometown, Lexington, Kentucky. There were more shootings in 2014 than in any of the ten prior years. In 2013, there were 16 homicides (1 unsolved), but in 2014,there were 18 homicides (6 unsolved). Almost all of these murders arise out of drug dealing or attempts to rob drug dealers. Many blame the increase in violent crime in Lexington to the lack of economic opportunities for uneducated people. Lexington ranks #12 in America in the percentage3 of adults (over 25) who have at least a bachelor's degree, but there are not enough jobs here that require that much education.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jan 4, 2015 1:10:32 PM

How is the lead level in Lexington?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 4, 2015 6:08:05 PM

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