Special Report

America's 25 Murder Capitals

Birmingham, Alabama
Source: Thinkstock

5. Birmingham, Alabama
> Murder rate: 37.2 per 100,000
> No. of murders: 79
> Violent crime rate: 1,746.2 per 100,000
> Population: 212,291

Birmingham is one of several cities in the deep south with far more murders per capita than is typical nationwide. The incidence of murder in 2015 was up 51.9% from 2014 and 46.3% from five years ago. According to statements made by Birmingham police, violence related to drug trafficking is the primary cause of the city’s high murder rate.

Higher rates of violent crime often occur in economically depressed areas. The typical Birmingham household earns only $31,217 annually, and 31% of area residents live below the poverty line, each among the worst of all U.S. metropolitan areas.

New Orleans, Louisiana
Source: Thinkstock

4. New Orleans, Louisiana
> Murder rate: 41.7 per 100,000
> No. of murders: 164
> Violent crime rate: 949.6 per 100,000
> Population: 393,447

Poverty can often be an accurate measure in predicting violence, and in New Orleans, 27.7% of the population lives below the poverty line — one of the largest shares of any city in the country.

Gun violence in particular is a major problem across the state. Louisiana has the second highest gun fatality rate in the country. In New Orleans specifically, while the number of homicides in 2015 is up 9.3% from 2014, the longer term trend reveals a considerable decrease in murder in the city. Over five years, the number of murders in the city has declined by 18.0%, and are now nowhere near the quarter century high of 424 murders in 1994.

Detroit, Michigan 2, skyline, sunset
Source: Thinkstock

3. Detroit, Michigan
> Murder rate: 43.8 per 100,000
> No. of murders: 295
> Violent crime rate: 1,759.6 per 100,000
> Population: 673,225

The incidence of violent crime, a category which includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, went up by 3.9% nationwide in 2015. In Detroit, however, the incidence of violent crime declined by 13.0% last year. Despite the improvement, homicide remains a major problem in Motor City. There were 295 murders in the city, or 43.8 homicides for every 100,000 city residents in 2015, the third highest murder rate in the country.

Detroit’s high murder rate is likely in part the result of its dismal economy. Nearly 40% of city residents live in poverty, and 12.4% of the workforce was unemployed as of 2015, each the highest share of any major U.S. city.

Baltimore, Maryland sunset
Source: Thinkstock

2. Baltimore, Maryland
> Murder rate: 55.4 per 100,000
> No. of murders: 344
> Violent crime rate: 1,535.9 per 100,000
> Population: 621,252

There were 344 homicides in Baltimore in 2015, more than the city has had since 1993, when there were 353 murders. However, Baltimore had significantly larger population in 1993, and after adjusting for population changes, 2015 was the deadliest in the city’s history. The number of murders in the city also increased by 63.0% from 2014, and the number of non-fatal shootings in 2015 was up 72% from 2014.

The spike in homicides in Baltimore has garnered national attention, but none have yet to draw a conclusive explanation. Theories range from violence connected to a flood of opioids looted from pharmacies during riots, spurred by the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody, to a decline in public perception of police authority. Less than one-third of last year’s murders in Baltimore have been solved.

St. Louis, Missouri
Source: Thinkstock

1. St. Louis, Missouri
> Murder rate: 59.3 per 100,000
> No. of murders: 188
> Violent crime rate: 1,817.1 per 100,000
> Population: 317,095

The 2015 murder rate in St. Louis of 59.3 incidents for every 100,000 city residents was the highest rate of any American city. Murder has become increasingly common in St. Louis in recent years. The 188 murder cases in 2015 represents an 18.2% increase from 2014 and a 66.4% increase from 2011. The majority of murder victims in St. Louis in 2014 and most of 2015 were young African-American males.

The motives behind many murders in the city range from personal disputes to disputes related to drug trafficking. The city made plans to increase the size of its police force in hopes of slowing the increase in the homicide rate.

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