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November 21, 2017

"Assessing and Responding to the Recent Homicide Rise in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the National Institute of Justice and authored by Richard Rosenfeld, Shytierra Gaston, Howard Spivak and Seri Irazola.  Here is the full executive summary:

Big-city homicides rose in 2015 and again in 2016, although not all cities experienced a large increase, and homicides fell in some cities.  We consider two explanations of the homicide rise as guides for future research: (1) expansion in illicit drug markets brought about by the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic and (2) widely referenced “Ferguson effects” resulting in de-policing, compromised police legitimacy, or both.

Larger increases in drug-related homicides than in other types of homicide provide preliminary evidence that expansions in illicit drug markets contributed to the overall homicide rise.  The current drug epidemic is disproportionately concentrated in the white population, and homicides have increased among whites as well as among African-Americans and Hispanics.  We surmise, therefore, that the drug epidemic may have had an especially strong influence on the rise in homicide rates among whites.

Current evidence that links de-policing to the homicide rise is mixed at best.  Surveys of police reveal widespread concerns about increased police-community tensions and reductions in proactive policing in the aftermath of widely publicized deadly encounters between the police and African-Americans.  Increases in homicide followed decreases in arrests in Baltimore and Chicago, although it is not known whether the same was true in other cities.  Nationwide, arrest-offense ratios and arrest clearance rates decreased in 2015, but they had been declining for several years when homicide rates were falling.  The extent of de-policing and its possible connection to the recent homicide rise remain open research questions.

Survey evidence reveals greater discontent with the police among African-Americans than among whites.  Alienation from the police can result in a decreased willingness to contact them when a crime occurs or to cooperate in police investigations and, some studies suggest, an increase in criminal behavior.  One study has shown that calls for police service fell after a controversial violent encounter between the police and an unarmed African-American in Milwaukee.  The reduction in calls for service was greater in African-American neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods.  The rate at which the police are contacted is only one of several indicators needed to measure any connection between diminished police legitimacy and the recent rise in homicides.

We emphasize the provisional nature of these hypotheses regarding the recent homicide rise.  We recommend using city- and neighborhood-level case studies to further refine the hypotheses and develop new ones, and quantitative studies of larger samples of cases should follow.  We discuss several key empirical indicators to measure changes in drug markets, policing, and police legitimacy and offer several suggestions for future research.  The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will play an important role in facilitating the necessary research.

U.S. homicide rates rose substantially in 2015 and 2016.  These increases were much larger than was typical of yearly homicide fluctuations over the past several decades, so they merit close attention.  This paper extends a previous analysis (Rosenfeld 2016) by documenting the homicide rise in 2015 with more complete data and presenting data for large cities in 2016.  The paper then considers two explanations for the recent homicide increase.  The first explanation ties the increase to the expansion of illicit drug markets resulting from the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic in the United States.  The second explanation is the widely referenced Ferguson effect on crime rates, which attributes the homicide increase to reduced proactive policing, community alienation from the police, or both (Mac Donald 2016; Rosenfeld 2016). The paper concludes with recommendations for future research on the recent homicide rise.

November 21, 2017 at 03:40 PM | Permalink


Was there a rise in homicides in cities where people can purchase untaxed liquor and marijuana? If not, then the rise in homicides might not have been due to the rise in illicit drug purchases, but the rise in taxes on legal drugs may have led to the rise in illicit drug purchases.

Don't just assume taxes have no effect on human behavior. The entire point of taxes is to decrease behavior frequency. If taxes lead to decreased legal drug purchases and increase illegal drug purchases (which leads to higher homicide rates), then they are doing exactly what behavioral economists predict.

Get rid of all excise taxes and see if homicide rates remain high.

Posted by: Tax Broker and Fixer | Nov 22, 2017 8:42:46 AM

"The city of Chicago saw 765 murders in 2016, up from 468 in 2015, and 411 in 2014"

"The highest combined state-local [cigarette] tax rate is $6.16 in Chicago, IL"

"The total [Chicago] tax burden for this alcohol: 28.16 percent."


Posted by: Taxes kill | Nov 22, 2017 9:19:12 AM

@taxes - if you want to show that taxes caused a change in homicide rates, you need to show a change in taxes. If taxes were constant and homicide increased, you need to consider other factors.

Posted by: Paul | Nov 22, 2017 9:55:15 AM

Problem with taxes theory is that some or most of the purchases of opioids -- oxycodin, vicodin, etc. -- are legal (or quasi-legal) purchases. Additionally, taxes are merely one part of the price, and I don't think the tax on beer makes opioids cheaper than alcohol.

I see no evidence that people are purchasing opioids -- mostly pain killers -- because their beer and cigarettes are too expensive. I know that in my area -- despite the vast increase in the homicide rate -- there has been no change in the vice taxes or any dramatic change in the price of beer over the past three years. Rather the problem is that they get hooked on pain killers during the brief period of time when they actually have a real need for extremely strong pain killers and then can't kick the addiction.

Posted by: tmm | Nov 22, 2017 10:14:28 AM


Cook County, IL, which includes Chicago, increased its cigarette tax from 18 cents to $1.00 per pack in 2004, by an additional $1.00 in 2006, and again by another $1.00 in 2013, bringing its current tax rate to $3.00 per pack;
in 2005, Chicago raised its own cigarette tax from 16 to 48 cents per pack, and then by an additional 20 cents in 2006, and an additional 50 cents in 2014, bringing its tax rate to $1.18 cents per pack – with the total state-local tax rate in Chicago at $6.16 per pack

Posted by: IL Taxes | Nov 22, 2017 10:22:40 AM


In Chicago, according to the city's 2013 financial analysis, cigarette tax revenue has declined from a high of $32.9 million in 2006 to current levels of $16.5 million while sales in Indiana and Wisconsin have skyrocketed. And when taxes are hiked excessively, they create significant illegal profit potential, which attracts criminals that will readily fill the increased demand for cheaper, illicit cigarettes sold on the black market. These cigarettes are smuggled by the carload from lower tax states, such as Missouri and Indiana. Since the Cook County tax increase, law enforcement has seized multiple cars with trunks full of smuggled cigarettes to be sold on the black market.

Posted by: Smuggler's Run to IL | Nov 22, 2017 10:30:38 AM

Was there some change in the system where you can put these slogan type names in the name box? I have seen an increase in such names on more than one professional legal blog lately for whatever reason.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 22, 2017 10:37:57 AM


While rates of overdose of legal prescription opiates has leveled off in the past decade, overdoses of illicit opiates have surged since 2010, nearly tripling.[31]

Posted by: Don | Nov 22, 2017 10:55:29 AM

Academics forgot: Decarceration of 3%.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 22, 2017 11:40:15 AM

In Italy murders passed from 475 in 2015 to 400 in 2016.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Nov 23, 2017 4:21:26 PM

Hi, Claudio.

Italians smoke a lot of marijuana.

Your murder rate is a third of ours. However, our white murder rate is one fifth that of blacks. You could do better.

Your overall crime rate, of carjackings, kidnappings, muggings, purse snatching is through the roof. There is a tourist travel advisory for all of Rome and for the south of Italy. Your pro-criminal government has no rule of law. They do nothing about the prostitutes, the drug dealers, ultra-violent African immigrants. All kinds of scum are running rampant in Italy. It takes 30 years to settle a tort or contract case. That is why FIAT is now an American company, and an Italian company in name only. I would suggest all Italian companies move to the US. The legal system of the US stinks, but Italy has no legal system whatsoever. Italians live like animals in the jungle.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 24, 2017 9:43:09 AM

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