NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Murder Statistics Puzzle Criminologists

December 16, 2002

The number of homicides is up in some cities this year and down in others -- leaving criminologists to search for a clear trend.

  • After years of decline, murders are up in Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington, Phoenix, San Antonio and Boston.
  • But in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego and Dallas, slayings are down.
  • Los Angeles leads the nation with 627 murders as of December 7 this year -- a 6.8 percent increase over last year.
  • Philadelphia likely will have its fewest homicides in 17 years, with the rate this year dropping 11.3 percent -- while the rate in Dallas is down by 28.8 percent this year.

Authorities say several factors could foreshadow a period of higher murder rates: a sour economy offering fewer jobs, lower imprisonment rates in many states, and a larger population of crime-prone teens and young adults. The 2000 Census found 20 million males ages 15 through 24 -- 1.5 million more than in 1995.

Police in Oakland and Los Angeles say gang warfare drives the murder binge -- often stirred up by older gangsters being released from prison.

Another factor making it harder for criminologists to determine a national trend is that regional anomalies can also spike violence. For example, homicides in Phoenix jumped 36% last year when tougher federal enforcement against drug trafficking along the Mexican border eased after Sept. 11 -- efforts that caused a one-year drop in murders in Phoenix 180 miles away. When federal priorities shifted, murders returned to the previous level of about 200 a year.

Source: John Ritter, "Oakland, Other Cities Confront Murder Surge," USA Today, December 16, 2002.

For text


Browse more articles on Government Issues