Murder rates are falling in most American cities

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ohTHE HOT Wednesday afternoon the Chicago office BELIEVE, a charity run by former education secretary Arne Duncan, is to survive. In the car park and inside, there were dozens of workers dressed in bright suits reading “Peacekeeper” mill around. Every morning they meet at the squat building off 103rd Street in Roseland, a South Side neighborhood, to share information – who’s arguing, what fights or gunshots have already been reported, where groups could be mocked. The workers then spread out into the community in an attempt to stop the shooting before it happened. By 2.30pm the place is quiet.

According to Terrance Henderson, BELIEVEan outreach supervisor and former gang member himself, this work helps explain why violence has decreased in the community. “The summer has been going well,” he said. “We had a terrible first quarter,” he said, when three people were shot outside a Walmart and a local rapper was killed, starting a controversy. But “we were able to stabilize that in early spring. ” So far this year, in Roseland and West Pullman, the areas the office covers, the number of homicides is down five compared to the same period last year, or about 20%.Across Chicago , the number of murders counted by the police so far this year is down about 5% compared to last year. Compared to 2021, when violence peaked, it is down 20%.

It is not only Chicago (where the level of crime, which worries residents, has become a national obsession) in which violence seems to be falling. Surveys of the largest cities show that homicide rates are down in the vast majority of them this year. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, a research group, the homicide rate in 30 of America’s largest cities was 9% lower in the first half of this year than last year. Another study of 109 cities followed by BUT Datalytics, a New Orleans-based research firm, shows a 12% drop this year (see chart). Some of the biggest falls have been in particularly hard-hit cities, like Minneapolis. It is his opinion that the wave of violence that swept across America in the summer of 2020 may have increased.

The most plausible explanation, suggests Daniel Webster, a criminologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is that “we are over covid and the economic and social disruptions it caused. ​​” It is also difficult to explain why violence increased in 2020. The social services were closed due to the pandemic; the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis led to protests that worsened relations between the police and people in the hardest-hit communities; many retired police officers; gun sales went up. All these factors, however, are now returning to something more like normal, notes Mr Webster. “There are all kinds of things that affect the homicide rate,” says Jeff Asher, of BUT Datalytics. Although police forces or individual agencies like BELIEVE try to get credit, the drivers of the recession are indeed “national”.

But local factors can also be important. Jens Ludwig, from the University of Chicago crime lab, agrees that the end of the pandemic is the most plausible explanation. But he is aware that violence often goes in cycles. “When crime rates rise, both the government and private citizens take more protective measures. “The police are still almost as understaffed today as they were a year or two ago. But NGOs like BELIEVE has expanded significantly, and not only in Chicago. That “is a very plausible part of this story as well”, he says. Private security has also expanded. And there may be more subtle behavioral changes, such as parents exercising stricter control over their teenage children to keep them out of fights.

Even with the drop so far this year, in most cities violence is still higher than it was in 2019. By August 6th 2019 there had been 300 murders in Chicago; the same number this year was 378. It seems that some crimes, such as car theft, continue to increase significantly. And things can change quickly. Murders have risen sharply this year in Memphis, where the death of a 29-year-old black man, Tire Nichols, at the hands of police in January sparked widespread protests. Spikes in violence often follow police killings. The homicide rate has also increased in Washington, DCwhere the justice system has been damaged by the ongoing prosecution of people accused of rioting and attacking the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

One concern is that cops are still in short supply, and city governments face pressure in the coming years. Much of the money spent on initiatives such as breaking violence is temporary. “What happens when federal pandemic relief funds run out?” asks Mr. Ludwig.

Still, the decline so far will take heart for mayors — and Democrats in general. Rising homicide rates have been a major problem for the party, which has a troubled relationship with police unions. In the 2022 midterms, 61% of voters told Pew that violent crime was “very important” in determining how they would vote. Republicans ran ads pointing to rising homicide rates across the country. It may be difficult to explain why the country has turned a corner. But if the murder rate continues to decrease, Joe Biden will happily claim the credit.

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