Homicide Rates Surge in Big U.S. Cities

© Scott Olson/Getty Images Police collect evidence at the scene of a shooting on June 23, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.
© Scott Olson/Getty Images Police collect evidence at the scene of a shooting on June 23, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.

After seeing years of decline in violent crime, several major American cities experienced a dramatic surge in homicides during the first half of this year. 

Milwaukee, which had one of its lowest annual homicide totals in city history last year, has recorded 84 murders so far this year, more than double the 41 it tallied at the same point last year.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the mounting homicide toll in his city of 600,000 is being driven by Wisconsin’s “absurdly weak” gun laws (carrying a concealed weapon without a state-issued concealed carry is a misdemeanor in the Badger State), a subculture within the city that affirms the use of deadly violence to achieve status and growing distrust of police in some parts of the city.

Milwaukee is not alone.

Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis have also seen the number of murders jump 33% or more in 2015. Meanwhile, Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, has seen the homicide toll climb by 19% and the number of shooting incidents increase in the city by 21% during the first half of the year.

In all the cities, the increased violence is disproportionately impacting poor and predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In parts of Milwaukee, the sound of gunfire has become so expected that about 80% of gunfire detected by ShotSpotter sensors aren’t even called into police by residents, Flynn said.

“We’ve got folks out there living in neighborhoods, where . . . it’s just part of the background noise,” Flynn told USA TODAY. “That’s what we’re up against.”

Criminologists are quick to note that the surge in murders in many big American cities come after years of declines in violent crime in major metros throughout the USA. Big cities saw homicides peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s as crack-cocaine wreaked havoc on many urban areas.

The homicide toll across the country — which reached a grim nadir in 1993 when more than 2,200 murders were counted in New York City — has declined in ebbs and flows for much of the last 20 years, noted Alfred Blumstein, a professor of urban systems and operations research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Several U.S. cities – including Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego and Indianapolis – have experienced a decrease in the number of murders so far this year.

Blumstein said the current surge in murders in some big cities could amount to no more than a blip.

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Source: USA Today | Aamer Madhani

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