NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Improved Emergency Procedures Reduce Murder Rates

August 27, 2002

U.S. murder rates began a dramatic decline beginning in the early 1990s. The usual explanations given to explain this good news included more police and better policing, more prisons and the aging of the population -- including the graying of criminals.

But one factor often overlooked has been the improvement in emergency responses.

A study led by Anthony R. Harris, of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, draws attention to the role the 911 number and improved trauma care have played in saving the lives of victims of attempted murder.

  • Homicides peaked in 1991 at 24,700 and then dropped throughout the decade to 16,000 last year.
  • Without better emergency care, the 1999 total of about 15,500 homicides might have been more than four times that high -- nearly 70,000 -- the researchers estimate.
  • The study concludes that slow and steady annual declines -- averaging 2.7 percent for deaths by knifing, 3.0 percent for deaths by firearms, 4.4 percent for deaths by poisoning and other means -- all contributed to the precipitous decline overall.

Unlike in 1960, before there was even a 911 number to call, a person shot during a robbery might just lie in place and bleed to death, but today would be swarmed over by a dozen or more medical personnel in the critical first hour, then whisked to a hospital where a fully informed trauma team would be standing by.

Source: Anthony Ramirez, "One More Reason You're Less Likely to Be Murdered," New York Times, August 25, 2002.

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