Incidents Versus Rates: Who's the "Murder Capital" of the U.S.?

According to FBI statistics, Chicago has been among the top three cities with the most murders since 1985.  500 homicides were committed there in 2012, a 20 percent increase compared to 2011.  In 2013, the city witnessed 440 murders, and 201 have already been committed in the first seven months of 2014.  The recent spate of shootings that took place there (no fewer than 82 over the 4th of July holiday weekend) have drawn national attention.  The numbers look bleak.

But Harold Pollack, of the University of Chicago's Crime Lab, says that "the idea that Chicago faces a unique or unprecedented rise in homicides is incorrect," and that it's important to put the very recent increase in gun violence in perspective: despite the recent uptick in homicides, Pollack shows, murders are actually down from their peak in the early 1990s, and "far below Chicago’s rate in any year between 1985 and 2002."

Source: Harold Pollack,

In addition, Chicago is a city of 2.7 million, "more than any other city except New York and Los Angeles, and you'd expect it to have more murders (and other crimes) than most other cities for that reason alone," says Drew Silver of the Pew Research Center. "Adjust the raw numbers for population size to get a murder rate, and a very different picture emerges."  In this picture, Chicago's murder rate of 18.5 per 100,000 residents, while higher than the national murder rate (4.7 per 100,000), is far below that of other cities like Detroit (54.6), New Orleans (53.2), or Jackson, Mississippi (35.8).  And the title of "2012 murder capital" of the U.S. actually goes to Flint, Michigan, with 62 murders per 100,000 residents.

Nevertheless Pollack says, "Chicago does have markedly higher homicide rates than Los Angeles or New York.  We have more homicides than New York, although New York is more than twice the size" and that is worrisome.  Pollack and others point to three factors that explain why this might be:

  • Socio-economic issues (segregation along poverty lines; businesses closing; decreasing tax revenues as 200,000 people have left the city, especially in the middle-class; crumbling infrastructure; police shortage and lack of funding for law enforcement);
  • Escalating gang violence;
  • Streets flooded with guns (Chicago, despite very restrictive gun laws, has six times as many guns as New York City per capita.  In 2012, 87 percent of Chicago's homicides were gun-related).

Read more: resources:
Pew Interactive Tools: Gun Rights versus Gun Control (
Gun Violence in America (
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Regional Crime Analysis Geographic Information System (RCAGIS) (
Crime and Victims Statistics (
Social Structure, Race/Ethnicity, and Homicide (
Frederique Laubepin

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