In Most US Cities, Murder Rates Are Falling

But explaining why is tricky, experts say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2023 4:55 PM CDT
In Most US Cities, Murder Rates Are Falling
   (Getty Images / thawornnurak)

With some notable exceptions, including Washington, DC, and Memphis, murder rates are dropping in major American cities, though experts aren't entirely sure why. According to the Council on Criminal Justice research group, the homicide rate in 30 of the biggest US cities was down 12% year-on-year in the first half of 2023, the Economist reports. In Chicago, where the murder rate is often national news, killing are down 5% year-on-year and down 20% from 2021. In June, researcher Jeff Asher wrote at the Atlantic that the US "may be experiencing one of the largest annual percent changes in murder ever recorded," with murders down 20% in Los Angeles, Houston, and Philadelphia, and down 30% or more in cities including Atlanta and Milwaukee.

Daniel Webster, a criminologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, tells the Economist that while it's difficult to pinpoint causes for the fall in homicide rates, a likely one is that "we are past COVID and the economic and social disruptions that it caused," with more social services returning. The upheaval caused by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, which worsened relations between police and the public in cities across the US, has also largely receded. The murder rate in Minneapolis is down 40% year-on-year. Nonprofit groups like Chicago CRED, which works to reduce gun violence, have also played a role, experts say, though the homicide rate in Chicago and other cities is still higher than it was in 2019.

The New York Times notes that the "lack of certainty is typical in discussions about crime." The US saw a much bigger fall in the murder rate and other crime rates in the 1990s, but no consensus on the reasons why has emerged in the following decades. But whatever the reasons, the drop in murders could benefit Democratic politicians, who were attacked by their Republican rivals as violent crime rates were rising. "Explaining why the country has turned a corner may be tricky," the Economist notes. "But if the murder rate continues to drop, Joe Biden will happily claim the credit." (More murder rate stories.)

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