Mid-2023 Report Suggests Homicide Rate Could Be Lowest in U.S. History

By The Vanguard Staff

WASHINTON, DC – Murders in 30 large U.S. cities declined 9.4 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2022, and the trend, if it continues, would mean the U.S. will have experienced one of the largest single-year of homicide reductions in the era of modern record keeping, according to the Council on Criminal Justice’s full report on trends in homicide and other crimes.

The full report, said CCJ, is due at the end of January 2024.

This brief, said CCJ, “explores data on homicide from multiple sources. It examines victimization by age, race, and sex, as well as changes in arrests, clearance rates, the victim-offender relationship, and other key measures…the brief also explores possible explanations for the rise in homicide seen during the height of the pandemic and social justice protests of mid-2020, and, in most cities, its subsequent decline.”

CCJ said in the mid-year report, the “recent decrease in murders is encouraging; but far more can and must be done to achieve lasting reductions in homicide and other violent crime. Government agencies and community organizations are testing myriad approaches.”

CCJ’s Task Force on Policing and Violent Crime Working Group noted “numerous evidence-based strategies and reforms to improve law enforcement, increase police collaboration with community organizations, and strengthen the overall effectiveness of violence reduction efforts.”

Notable highlights in the CCJ report include data showing the U.S. homicide rate began to rise in 2015 after a years-long decline, eventually hitting a peak in 2021, about 24 percent higher in the 30 sample cities.

The report also notes people aged 15 to 19 years old were three times more likely to die by homicide in 2020-2021 than in 1960, Black males eight times more likely and Black females four times more likely to die by homicide in 2020-2021 than white counterparts, arrests of Black adults for homicide dropped 65 percent from 1980 to 2020, but Black people were six times more likely to be arrested for homicide in 2020 than white people and since 2020, more than three-quarters of homicides are committed with guns than 30-40 years ago when firearms were used in fewer than two-thirds of reported homicides.

CCJ also reports the “homicide clearance rate has dropped steadily since the 1960s. In 2022, the clearance rate was about 50 percent, meaning that just half of murders resulted in an arrest and fewer than half resulted in a conviction.”

The report added homicide rates “spiked by 68 percent from April to July 2020 in a sample of 30 American cities. By the end of 2021, rates were an average of 44 percent higher than in 2019. The average rate began receding in 2022 but was still 24 percent higher in the first half of 2023 compared to the first half of 2019.”   

Homicide victimization for all age groups has increased since 1960, CCJ said, while “those between the ages of 20 and 24 remain the most likely group to die by homicide, the rate of victimization for those between the ages of 15 and 19 was three times higher in 2020-21 than it was in 1960.” 

The homicide arrest rate of Black adults fell by 65 percent from the 1980s to 2020, the largest decrease seen among these four groups. In 2020, Black adults and juveniles remained six times more likely to be arrested for homicide than white adults and juveniles.

The relationship between victims and offenders has also become increasingly unclear in recent years. While the share of unknown relationships spiked in the early 1990s, is has hovered between 30 percent and 40 percent over the past 40 years. In 2020 and 2022, however, police were unable to determine the relationship in more than 50 percent of cases.

CCJ said, in August, its Crime Trends Working Group discussed the recent trends in homicide and possible explanations for the 2020 spike and the decline that followed. Possible explanations include Routine Activity Theory, Police Legitimacy, De-Policing, Gun Sales, Bail Reform and Progressive Prosecution,  Drug Market Disruption and Crime-Reduction Interventions.   

“COVID-19 exposed the nation to the harms systemic racism, inequitable policies, and decades of economic disinvestment have on our most marginalized communities, specifically majority Black neighborhoods. Mandated stay-at-home orders led to decreased access to services and support … The lack of resources to communities with pre-existing constraints compounded the distress for our most vulnerable residents, who generally experience higher rates of trauma,” the report noted.

“Much of the rise in homicide is directly tied to COVID – from young people being isolated from social supports and being confined in volatile neighborhoods to a crisis in police staffing. While these incendiary conditions have softened, little has changed about the risks that lead to violence in historically disadvantaged places. Homicide rates will likely continue to fall to pre-pandemic levels but are unlikely to fall any further until the underlying risk conditions improve,” said Executive Director, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Delrice Adams.

“Something that is challenging to measure but important to understand is the degree to which a range of interventions … implemented in response to rising homicide contributed to its decline. Many cities implemented violence reduction plans as rates rose, and it’s important to investigate how effective those plans were as one of many factors that led to a reduction in homicides,” added (CHAIR), Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Public Safety and Justice, NORC at the University of Chicago John Roman.

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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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