Special Report

America's 25 Murder Capitals

Detailed Findings & Methodology

In some cities, the increase in the homicide rate may have resulted from a singular event. In Orlando, for example, the homicide rate nearly tripled from 12 murders per 100,000 residents in 2015 to 30 per 100,000 in 2016. The increase was largely due to the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub, which claimed 49 lives and wounded 58 others and was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history at the time it occurred. Excluding the casualties from the nightclub shooting, Orlando’s homicide rate would have remained largely unchanged.

Firearms are by far the most common murder weapon. Nationwide, 73% of homicides were gun related in 2016. One major difference between cities with high gun-related homicide rates and those without may be the varying strictness of gun control legislation. In Chicago, for example, illegal gun possession carries a one-year minimum sentence, compared to 3.5 years in New York City. In St. Louis, which has the highest homicide rate of any city, individuals are allowed to carry a gun in a car without a permit. This is illegal in Detroit, Baltimore, and New York City, according to state laws.

Many of the cities with high crime rates were hit hard by the Great Recession. As a result, the tax bases of many high-crime cities has shrunk over the past decade, and many cities have had to downsize their police departments. While a larger police force does not necessarily help reduce crime on its own, police chiefs in many cities with high murder rates have identified the low staffing levels in their departments as obstacles to curbing crime. In 18 of the 25 cities with the most murders per capita, the number of sworn police officers fell from 2008 to 2016.

Many police departments have implemented new initiatives in recent years aimed at reducing the homicide rate. Common measures include targeting policing efforts in areas where the likelihood of crime is the highest, as well as community policing efforts that attempt to solidify the bond of trust between community members and police officers.

The quality of the community-police relationship may be one of the most important variables in fighting crime. In an interview in September with 24/7 Wall St., John Roman, a senior fellow with the non-partisan research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, said, “[In] a community that has demonstrated in the streets, that doesn’t trust the police the way it used to” — places like Chicago, Baltimore, and San Bernardino — “… people won’t come forward as witnesses, they won’t talk to the police about why the violence is occurring.” In such conditions, Roman explained, crime tends to escalate.

While gun control legislation and policing efforts may have an effect on crime, the largest determinant of crime is the economy. Although the relationship is complex, crime is often the most prevalent in cities with poorer economies that offer limited opportunities. In each of the 25 cities with the highest homicide rates, the poverty rate is greater than the nationwide rate of 15.5%. In 23 of the 25 murder capitals of America, the share of residents earning less than $10,000 a year is larger than the national share of 7.2%. Similarly, the unemployment rate in 20 of the 25 cities with the most murders per capita is higher than the national jobless rate of 4.9%.

To identify the cities with the highest murder rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program in 2016’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 for every 100,000 residents. Poverty rates are for 2016 and came from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Unemployment rates are annualized for 2016 and came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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