The deadly weekend in Chicago is the most recent indication of the soaring violence in the city. There have been 614 murders in the city so far this year — more than in New York and Los Angeles combined and the highest number in over a decade.
Nationwide, while the number of homicides declined for several years after 2008, it has risen in recent years. There were 15,696 murders in 2015, up by 7.1% from 2011 and 10.8% from 2014. The violence is concentrated in certain U.S. cities. Based on the FBI’s most recent Uniform Crime Report, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 25 American cities with the highest murder rates. Although Chicago has been making the news, it is St. Louis that leads the nation with nearly 60 murders reported for every 100,000 city residents in 2015.
The explanation for the nationwide uptick in murders remains unclear. FBI Director James Comey has attributed the spike to viral internet videos showing police brutality, which he suggested may lead to less aggressive policing. Comey’s “viral video effect” explanation has been widely criticized for lacking proof and for suggesting police officers might be afraid to do their jobs.
The reasons for the surge in homicides are clearer, however, in some cities. For example, disruptions in illegal drug markets have been blamed for increased deadly violence in Baltimore, Maryland; Dayton, Ohio; and Oakland, California. Similarly, gang violence has been cited as a major driver of the increase in homicides in Chicago, Illinois; Salinas, California; and West Palm Beach, Florida.
Cities with high murder rates often share several economic characteristics. While the connection between poverty and violent crime is by no means a direct relationship, each of the 25 U.S. cities with the highest murder rates have a higher poverty rate than the nation as a whole. In Dayton, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; and Hartford, Connecticut more than one in three city residents live at or below the poverty line, well more than double the 15.6% national poverty rate.
People are are also much more likely to be killed by someone they know than anyone else. The FBI reports that 42% of murder victims in the United States were verifiably killed by acquaintances or family members, and only 10.2% were killed by strangers. In the remaining 47.8% of last year’s homicide cases, the relationship between victim and perpetrator was not known.
Only 61.5% of murder cases nationwide in 2015 were solved. In the cities with the highest murder rates, the share of murder cases that were solved — also known as the murder clearance rate — varied dramatically. In Atlanta, which recently established a special police unit to address gun violence, has an 80% murder clearance rate. By contrast, Baltimore police solved only 30.5% of homicides last year. Baltimore is notorious for its “stop snitching” culture, which discourages any cooperation with police investigations.
Firearms are by far the most commonly used murder weapon. Nearly 72% of all 2015 murders with a known weapon were committed with a firearm. In some of the cities with the highest murder rates, the share is far higher. In both Baltimore and Chicago, firearms were involved in more than 85% of homicides. Though Chicago has relatively strict gun laws, the city is flooded with illegal guns from out of state, and officials have failed to implement policies to reduce gun violence — policies that have been successful in cities such as New York.
To identify the cities with the highest murder rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program in 2015’s “Crime in the United States Report.” Homicide figures, also referred to as murder or nonnegligent manslaughter, generally refer to deaths that occur as the result of a fight, assault, or commission of a crime. Cities were ranked by their murder rate: the total number of murders in 2015 adjusted for population. Murder rates are expressed as the number of murders for every 100,000 citizens. Poverty rates are for 2015 and came from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Unemployment rates are annualized for 2015 and came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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