Homicides Increase for Most American Cities

There are a wide variety of crime deniers (much like climate change deniers) who fought viciously to downplay the dramatic increase in violent crime for 2015 and 2016 per crimes reported to police via the FBI.

What’s below is a quick overview of homicides in American cities for recent years.

Most of us who write about crime have tried to be politically correct when we said that crime rose in some (not all) cities.

The truth is that homicides rose in “most” American cities.

Homicides have been a traditional barometer and an indicator of crime and violent crime across the board.

The report states that there is, “…ambiguous support, at best, for the de-policing version of the Ferguson effect.” While undoubtedly true from a research perspective (correlation does not equal causation), there are many of us who believe that what happened in Baltimore and Ferguson offers the best explanation for wildly increasing crime in those cities, and many others, see Crime in America.

Below is verbiage from the National Institute of Justice of the US Department of Justice with minor edits and rearranged for readability.

Per the FBI

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, 15,696 criminal homicides took place in the United States in 2015 — 1,532 more than during the previous year.

The homicide rate rose from 4.4 to 4.9 homicides per 100,000 population from 2014 to 2015, an 11.4-percent increase and the largest one-year percentage rise in the U.S. homicide rate since 1968.

In cities with 250,000 or more residents, the focus of the current report, homicides rose by 15.2 percent between 2014 and 2015  By any reasonable standard, these are noteworthy increases, especially because they involve the most serious and reliably measured criminal offense. Only cities with at least 30 homicides in 2014 are shown.

Homicide continued to increase in 2016. The nationwide homicide rate rose to 5.3 homicides per 100,000 population, an increase of 8.2 percent over 2015.

The number of homicides in the big cities increased by 10.8 percent between 2015 and 2016.

Most, but not all, large cities experienced homicide increases in 2015 and 2016, and some cities experienced sizable declines.

Homicides rose by 17.2 percent on average in 2015 in large cities with appreciable (more than 30) homicide counts.

The increase was more than 25 percent in 14 cities and more than 50 percent in nine cities.

The following year, homicides increased by 12.1 percent on average in these cities.

Twelve cities saw increases of more than 25 percent in 2016, while just four cities experienced increases exceeding 50 percent.

Not only did the big-city homicide rise decrease somewhat over the two years, different cities led the way each year. Cleveland, Nashville, Denver, Baltimore, and Oklahoma City had the five largest percentage increases in 2015. Austin, Chicago, San Antonio, San Jose, and Louisville topped the list in 2016.

Just two cities, Baltimore and Chicago, accounted for about one-quarter of the total increase in homicide in large cities in 2015.

Ten cities accounted for two-thirds of the 2015 big-city homicide rise that year. Chicago contributed just under half of the big-city homicide increase in 2016, and 10 cities accounted for nearly all of the increase in 2015.

The recent homicide increase in the United States was not only large, it was also relatively sudden and unforeseen. The sheer abruptness of the increase makes it especially difficult to explain. The authors do not offer a definitive explanation of the homicide rise.

Reasons for the Increase

Drugs — particularly opioids and heroin — may be a key contributor to the increase in homicides and community instability.

Much speculation, but little empirical research, exists regarding the mechanisms linking police legitimacy, as reflected in public attitudes and perceptions, to crime rates.

The dominant narrative surrounding the recent homicide rise attributes increased crime to de-policing. Dubbed the Ferguson effect, the basic idea is that, in the aftermath of controversial and heavily publicized incidents of police use of force against minorities, particularly African-Americans, the police have pulled back from proactive enforcement strategies that can reduce crime, including making arrests and stopping and questioning suspicious people on the street.

Police officers are worried about increased legal liability or having their identities disclosed on social media, according to this argument, and so avoid taking actions that would expose them to criticism during a time of heightened police-community tension and social unrest. Less policing, in turn, leads to more crime.

In summary, the UCR arrest data for large cities provide ambiguous support, at best, for the de-policing version of the Ferguson effect.


National Institute of Justice

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.