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April 14, 2024

Another accounting of remarkable homicide declines to start 2024 (after big declines in 2023)

The Wall Street Journal has this new piece, headlined "Homicides Are Plummeting in American Cities," that covers in some new ways the remarkable homicide data emerging from cities (which I flagged here a few weeks ago).  Here are excerpts (to go along with some notable charts and graphs in the WSJ piece):

Homicides in American cities are falling at the fastest pace in decades, bringing them close to levels they were at before a pandemic-era jump.  Nationwide, homicides dropped around 20% in 133 cities from the beginning of the year through the end of March compared with the same period in 2023, according to crime-data analyst Jeff Asher, who tabulated statistics from police departments across the country.

Philadelphia saw a 35% drop in killings as of April 12 compared with the same period last year, police data show. In New York City, homicides fell 15% through April 7. Homicides in Columbus, Ohio, plunged 58% through April 7. And Boston had just two homicides this year as of March 31, compared with 11 over the same time frame last year.

The drop is an acceleration of a trend that began last year, following a surge in the number of homicides during the Covid-19 pandemic. The declines so far in 2024, on top of last year’s drop, mirror the steep declines in homicides of the late 1990s....

If the trend continues, the U.S. could be on pace for a year like 2014, which saw the lowest homicide rate since the 1960s.  But police officials and researchers cautioned that crime trends aren’t always consistent and future homicide rates are difficult to predict.  Some cities, like Denver, Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore., reported rises in homicides as of early April, Asher’s data show.  But such increases are outliers.  More typical is Baltimore, where homicides have declined 30% so far this year.

During the pandemic, homicide rates shot up around the country, sparking concerns that the progress made during a decadeslong drop in violent crimes had been undone.  The number of homicides in the U.S. rose nearly 30% in 2020 from the prior year to 21,570, the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Researchers and authorities attributed the upward spike to several factors, including crime-prevention programs, courts and prisons being unable to operate normally when Covid was spreading; young people not in school due to shutdowns; and law enforcement pulling back after social unrest following the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and other Black people....

Now, police are more engaged and departments are working to hire more officers. Community-based crime prevention programs have resumed. And nationwide social unrest has cooled....

In some cities, the homicide decline has been accompanied by a reduction in property crime as well.  San Francisco, where property crime has been a huge problem in recent years, has recorded decreases in burglaries, robberies, larceny thefts and motor vehicle thefts so far in 2024.  The city has also seen nine homicides as of April 7, compared with 13 during the same period in 2023.

Crime researchers have been particularly struck by the drops in cities that have been the most plagued with violent crime in recent years, like New Orleans. In the first half of 2022, it had the highest homicide rate of any major U.S. city, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of crime data. Through April 10 of this year, the number of killings dropped 39% from the same period in 2023.

As I noted in my prior post, it strikes me as notable that the 2023 and 2024 declines in homicide come at a time of relatively little use of the death penalty and relatively lower rates of incarceration by modern US standards. The 1990s involved a significant uptick in death sentences, executions and incarceration rates across the US; the 2020s have seen declines in all these punishment metrics. (Let me state again that I generally doubt that punishment trends alone directly account for homicide trends in any direction.)

A few prior related posts on recent crime trends:

April 14, 2024 at 12:20 PM | Permalink

Comments

I remember Derek Thompson's 2021 article published in The Atlantic where he interviewed Patrick Sharkey. It was titled "Why America’s Great Crime Decline Is Over" and it stated that crime would increase in the U.S. Well, it seems Thompson and Sharkey are wrong based on the data released over the past year. I hope homicides continue to decline over the year and will cause politicians to revisit criminal justice reforms that are less punitive.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 14, 2024 11:49:07 PM

Here in Lexington/Fayette County, Kentucky, the number of homicides in 2023 fell to 24 from 44 (an all-time high number). So far, in 2024 we have 3 homicides now, compared to 4 (as of 4/20/2023) and 5 (as of 4/30/2023). Of the 24 homicides in 2023, 6 of those involved victims who were 18 years old or younger. This continues a trend over the last 5 or 6 years, where the shooters (22 of 24 murders in 2023 were by gunshot) and the victims are younger than ever. In part, this is because young black men, who historically have had fist fights or used a knife occasionally now all have pistols; they are young, immature and impulsive. These days, many homicide victims are 16 to 25 years old. One of the 2023 homicide cases may disappear following trial. It involves an incident in the 'hood [East End], where a well-known 34-year-old female crack dealer, who was shot and killed by a man, who was in turn shot and killed by another man trying to defend the woman he had just shot and killed. At trial, he may have a successful defense, "defense of others". Another problem the police and prosecutors have with that case is that the man they have arrested may not even have been the real shooter. He was arrested 2 blocks from the scene of the killings, 10 minutes after they occurred, but he had no gun and the police have never found the murder weapon. This defendant says he was simply sitting on the front porch of a nearby home when the shooting started, so he ran away to escape possible injury. Only a single witness has identified him as the shooter and says that she saw him with a gun in his hand shoot the man. This may a case of cross-racial misidentification. Other witnesses are exculpatory, saying that the defendant was simply sitting on a porch talking with them when the shooting started, but he didn't have a gun and didn't shoot anyone. This 35-year-old many has two young daughters, a wife and mother, but he can't make his $100,000 bond (very low for a homicide case), so he has already sat in jail awaiting trial for a year. Here in Lexington, we will need to see where the number of 2024 homcides rests by June 30th, so that we can discern any trends, compared to 2023.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Apr 15, 2024 10:04:16 AM

Jim-

I read your post and it's unfortunate that this 35 year old man has sat in jail for a year because he can't afford to make bail. He's married with two children and probably worked before his arrest. The judge should reduce his bond if his case isn't tried within the trial term. I mean set the bond at $15,000.

It's good that homicides have declined in Lexington. I'm not a Kentuckian, but it seems that the homicides declined as social institutions reopened after the lockdown. I am not minimalizing the live 24 lives lost in 2023 and much work is needed to lower homicides even more. You stated most of the victims are young black men aged 16-25 that have easy access to firearms. Do these young men live in low income areas with little to no prospects of employment? It's as much a class issue as it is a racial issue, arguably even more so. Thus, the local government should address poverty and organizations should host events like job fairs, recreational activities, etc. to curb the violence.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 16, 2024 12:22:49 AM

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