NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Homicides Fall In Big Cities

December 30, 2010

When Washington debates whether America is safe, the focus now is usually on the increasing threat of terrorism -- not violent crime.   That has largely obscured some good news about violent crime.   Across the nation, homicide rates have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly a generation.  And overall violent crime has sunk to its lowest level since 1973, Justice Department statistics show.

The long-term trend is particularly striking in the nation's three largest cities:

  • In New York, homicides have dropped 79 percent during the past two decades - from 2,245 in 1990 to 471 in 2009.
  • Chicago is down 46 percent during that period, from 850 to 458.
  • Los Angeles is down 68 percent, from 983 to 312.

Analysts say a range of factors have helped to tamp down violent crime.  Among them: improve crime-mapping technology that allows police officers to be deployed more efficiently, a booming economy for much of the past two decades, and the absence of gang-fueled wars over a drug of the moment, such as the turf battles over crack-cocaine in the 1980s and '90s.

But the prospect of prolonged economic woes raise troubling questions about whether violent crime could rise again, and some recent trends that affect residents' quality of life have been unsettling:

  • In New York, city crime reports though November of 2010 indicate that homicides have jumped 14.4 percent and rape is up 15.6 percent this year, compared with the same period last year. Those numbers don't compare to the 1990s, but are notable in a city that has been a model for reducing crime.
  • In Chicago, Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city has struggled to break an unusual cycle of slaying involving child victims.
  • In Los Angeles, authorities have tamped down persistent gang violence, but police acknowledge that the successes are fragile in a never-ending effort to maintain local public safety, even as gang membership has risen slightly, from 43,000 in 2008 to 45,000 this year.

Source:  Kevin Johnson, Judy Keen and William M. Welch, "Homicides Fall in Big Cities," USA Today, December 29, 2010.

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