U.S. Murder Rate Down, Especially in Big Cities, Early 2023 Data Show

PC: Thomas Def
Via Unsplash

By The Vanguard Staff

BROOKLYN, NY – The U.S. “may be experiencing one of the largest annual percent changes in murder ever recorded,” writes Ben Kothe of The Atlantic this week, noting, “I’ve found something that I’ve never seen before and that probably has not happened in decades: strong evidence of a sharp and broad decline in the nation’s murder rate.”

Kothe added, with some caution, the statistics are only “preliminary,” and represent only the early part of 2023, but he optimistically stated that “data from a sufficiently large sample of big cities have typically been a good predictor of the year-end national change in murder, even after only five months.”

The Atlantic story indicated murder is down 12 percent year-to-date compared to 2022 “in more than 90 cities,” adding big cities “tend to slightly amplify the national trend—a five percent decline in murder rates in big cities would likely translate to a smaller decline nationally. But even so, the drop shown in the preliminary data is astonishing.”

The Atlantic staffer wrote murder is “down 13 percent in New York City, and shootings are down 25 percent. Murder is down more than 20 percent in Los Angeles, Houston, and Philadelphia. And, most significantly, murder is down 30 percent—30 percent!—or more in Jackson, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; Little Rock, Arkansas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and others.”

But Kothe wasn’t all smiles, noting Memphis and some smaller cities have surging murder rates and even a double-digit percent decline in murder in 2023 “would still mean that a couple thousand more people will be murdered in America this year than in 2019.”

And he addressed the elephant in the room, declaring “mass shootings are on the rise even as overall gun violence appears to be falling. 

“Explaining the trend is much more difficult than describing it. The cause of the Great Crime Decline of the 1990s, when murder fell 37 percent over six years, is still not fully understood, so any explanations of the current trend must remain in the hypothesis phase for now,” said the author.

“The national nature of both the surge in murder in 2020 and the apparent decrease this year suggests that national explanations will be more convincing than local anecdotes. Moreover, the factors that caused murder to begin to spike in the summer of 2020 may not be the same factors (now, theoretically, in reverse) that are contributing to its decline in 2023,” wrote Kothe.

“It is possible that police departments have returned to some of the proactive work that they curtailed during the COVID pandemic and after George Floyd, activities that may be inhibiting some gun violence,” Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal-justice professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, told Kothe.  

Kothe added “Many cities have used federal COVID-relief money to hire more police officers, and there is some evidence—albeit preliminary—that adding police officers helps to reduce homicide, while also leading to more arrests for low-level offenses. We do not yet know how successful agencies have been at growing their ranks or whether more police officers are resulting in fewer shootings.”

Although Kothe did note murder is down in Chicago, “Chicago’s number of police officers is virtually unchanged from last summer, while New Orleans’s is down more than eight percent and New York has roughly two percent fewer officers. And all their murder rates are down.”

The end of the emergency phase of the coronavirus pandemic may also be contributing to the decline in murder, Kothe said, quoting Ratcliffe, “With COVID restrictions being lifted and a return to some degree of normalcy, the traditional constraints that occurred within society affecting the routine activities of people have returned.”

The Atlantic story pointed out that Anthony Smith, the executive director of Cities United, an organization working to address community violence, agrees that the end of the pandemic is making a difference.

“Smith highlighted the Department of Justice awarding $100 million to community groups addressing gun violence last year as an example of this investment,” said Kothe, adding Smith believes cities have “increased their community-violence-intervention ecosystem and have focused in on identifying [those residents] most at risk and creating systems where they can identify, engage, and support them.

“The current downward shift in murder may reverse between now and December, and even if it doesn’t, it may ultimately prove to be a one-year anomaly. But whatever the causes—and whatever the staying power—the first five months of 2023 have produced an encouraging overall trend for the first time in years,” Kothe concluded.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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