Observations 2014 to 2015, the largest one-year percentage rise in the U.S. homicide rate since 1968. The number of homicides in the big cities increased by 10.8 percent between 2015 and 2016. Most large cities experienced homicide increases in 2015 and 2016. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state […]
A federal report released Wednesday examines FBI crime data in big cities, considering two possible explanations for the “sudden and unforeseen” spike in homicides nationwide.
A federal report released Wednesday examines FBI crime data in big cities, considering two possible explanations for the “sudden and unforeseen” spike in homicides nationwide.
According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study, which focuses on cities with a population of 250,000 or more, preliminary evidence suggests that expansions in illegal drug markets have driven the considerable increase of homicide rates among whites. In 2015 and 2016, drug-related homicides increased to a greater extent than other types of homicide.
The second hypothesis authors consider is the so-called Furguson effect, which resulted in “de-policing, compromised police legitimacy, or both.”
NIJ stipulates that “current evidence that links de-policing to the homicide rise is mixed, at best,” and that it remains an “open research question”– since arrests-offense ratios and arrest clearance rates had been declining for years, as were homicide rates, before the recent spike.
Neither explanation is meant to stand alone; in particular, growing tensions between African Americans and police do not account for the abrupt increase in homicides among whites beginning in 2013.
A look at the numbers
Nationally, 2014-2015 saw the largest percentage rise in the homicide rate since 1968, according FBI data; an increase of 11.4% over the previous year, or from 4.4 to 4.9 homicides per 100,000 people.
National homicide rates continued to increase by 8.2% in 2015-2016, and 10.8% in big cities. In 2015, Cleveland and Nashville saw the biggest absolute homicide increases, while Austin and Chicago topped the chart in 2016.
Only two cities bucked this upward trend: Miami and Tuscon both experienced a decline in homicides over the two-year period.
Despite the recent incline, the homicide rate in 2016 was still 35.4% lower than it was in 1995. “Even at the elevated rates of increase in 2015 and 2016,” note the authors, “it would take about five more years for the U.S. national and big city homicide rates to return to the levels of the early 1990s.”
‘Sudden and unforeseen’
In the search for external ‘shocks’ that could explain the rapid and unexpected nature of the recent homicide increase, NIJ finds two plausible candidates, both of which have parallels in contemporary U.S. history: the opioid epidemic, echoing the crack-driven homicide escalation of the 1980s–and anger over police brutality and fatal use-of-force, such as precipitated the civil unrest of the 1960s (and corresponding “crisis of institutional legitimacy,” according to some analysts).
Researchers need better data to measure the affects of the opioid crisis, according to the report. Drug arrests are not a reliable indicator, since they are “a product of both police
enforcement and criminal conduct,” and since “policymakers and law enforcement officials alike have viewed the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic as more of a public health than a criminal justice problem.”
There is some data to suggest a link between heroin and increased homicides: arrests for heroin or cocaine were falling between 2010 and 2013, but heroin use was on the rise. Arrests then rose in 2014 and 2015, coinciding with the accelerating homicide rate.
Data also needs to be disaggregated by race, in order to “determine whether, as expected, whites have entered local drug markets in greater numbers over time as both buyers and sellers.”
Police activity and community “reservoir of discontent”
When considering the influence on homicide rates of police enforcement, legitimacy, and community alienation, reliable indicators are also hard to chase down.
Arrest rates not only measure crime, but police activity, as noted above. “Arrests fell in Baltimore in 2015 after the Freddie Gray incident, and in Chicago in 2016 after the delayed release of a video of a controversial police shooting there.” The reduction in arrests was then followed by an increase of homicide in both cities.
However, researchers say that it “remains to be seen whether comparable decreases in arrests preceded increases in homicide elsewhere.” The link between homicide and arrests/de-policing needs to be further examined at the neighborhood level, since homicide rates vary substantially across neighborhoods.
Calculating police legitimacy and community alienation is “onerous,” and largely measured through opinion surveys– “for the time being,” say the authors, “it appears that strategic case studies and one- or two-time snapshot surveys will have to suffice.”
There are two empirical indicators that can be measured, however, if police departments are willing to release the data: calls for police service, and complaints against the police.
“If the community alienation hypothesis is correct, investigators should expect to observe a reduction in calls for service and an increase in complaints in cities where controversial use-of-force incidents and outbreaks of community unrest have occurred, particularly in African-American communities. Increases in homicide…should be greater in those cities and communities than in others.”
The dark figure of homicide
Finally, and critically, “it is important not to overstate the precision of these figures,”say researchers. “Like all UCR crime data, they are based on the classification of homicide events by local law enforcement agencies, and crime classification criteria and procedures can differ across agencies or within the same agency over time.”
Homicides with unknown circumstances are omitted from the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Report– and “the circumstances of fully 39.9 percent of homicides were unknown to law enforcement officials in 2015.”
To locate many of the indicators that researchers have identified, researchers will have to go beyond FBI data and work directly with public health and police sources, say authors of the report.
FiveThirtyEight noticed that the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report, the first released under the Trump administration, was missing 70 percent of the data tables that were included in past editions. The feds fired back, alleging a “false narrative” and claiming that plans to “streamline” the report date to 2010. FiveThirtyEight’s data sleuths are not convinced.
The FBI pushed back when FiveThirtyEight published an article last month revealing that the bureau’s accounting of 2016 national crime data–the first under the Trump administration–was missing almost 70 percent of the data tables that had been included in past. The FBI said removal of the tables was not out of the ordinary. But FiveThirtyEight says the bureau’s claim doesn’t add up. The yearly report is considered the gold standard of crime-trend tracking and is used by law enforcement, researchers, journalists and the general public. Changes to the structure of the report typically go through the Advisory Policy Board (APB), which manages and reviews operational issues for a number of FBI programs. But this change was not reviewed by the APB. One former FBI employee said the decision not to consult with the APB was “shocking.”
The FBI took issue with FiveThirtyEight’s reporting, which Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle called “a false narrative.” A month after the data was released, the agency posted a statement on the data tables noting that a plan to “streamline” the annual Uniform Crime Report had been in the works since 2010. But state-level UCR managers were not informed of it until late 2016. And the FBI had not publicly included the removal of data tables as part of those improvements until the statement it released following the FiveThirtyEight story. Instead, the FBI’s past statements said the agency aimed only to make data available more quickly and to improve digital features to allow users to access more data more easily.
In response to charges by a police captain that Los Angeles police is underreporting violent crime, Police Chief Charlie Beck says, “If I’m cooking the books, I’m not doing a good job,” pointing to a 4 percent increase in reported violent crime this year. The lawyer for the captain makeing the charge says she has “absolute proof” of “false crime statistics.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck forcefully denied that his department has falsified violent crime statistics, dismissing allegations that the LAPD is misleading the public as “not only untrue, but outrageous,” the Los Angeles Times reports. He said the allegations “are not only lies, but they are damn lies.” Beck added that, “If I’m cooking the books, I’m not doing a good job,” pointing to a 4 percent increase in reported violent crime this year. In 2016, violent crime increased in Los Angeles for the third straight year, according to department statistics. “I am confident that there is no purposeful misclassification,” Beck said. “Believe me, the consequences are way too high.”
Beck was responding to a claim by Capt. Lillian Carranza, who alleged that aggravated assaults were intentionally underreported in many police divisions. Carranza held a news conference and accused LAPD leaders of operating a “highly complex and elaborate coverup” to support a false portrait of public safety in L.A. “We have absolute proof that the department has and continues to present false crime statistics to the Department of Justice. The [LAPD’s Data] Integrity Unit has failed to top the false reports,” said Carranza’s attorney, Greg Smith. The police officers union also rebuked Beck. “Chief Beck doth protest too much,” the Los Angeles Police Protective League said. “It’s time for transparency and honesty to be the foundation of our department, not cooking the books to fool our elected officials and the public.”
Los Angeles police Capt. Lillian Carranza files suit accusing officials of underreporting violent crime 10 percent in several areas. The Los Angeles Times earlier reported a similar pattern.
A Los Angeles Police Department captain has filed a lawsuit accusing high-ranking members of the force of misclassifying violent crime and misleading the public about the true state of lawbreaking in the city, the Los Angeles Times reports. Capt. Lillian Carranza, who oversees the Van Nuys station, alleged that she began notifying superiors in 2014 about the underreporting of crime in the Foothill area, but no action was taken. Aggravated assaults in 2016 were underreported by about 10 percent in two divisions, she said, charging that those cases were misclassified as less serious offenses.
Carranza says the police department “engaged in a highly complex and elaborate coverup in an attempt to hide the fact that command officers had been providing false crime figures to the public attempting to convince the public that crime was not significantly increasing.” More recent analysis of two other police divisions showed a 10 percent undercounting of aggravated assaults this year, she said. The department did not comment on Carranza’s allegations, but said that, “When errors are found, records are corrected and additional training and other corrective action is taken.” The department added that “any accusation related to the accuracy of our reports will be taken very seriously and investigated as a potential disciplinary matter.” Carranza said she was told by a supervisor that she would not receive a promotion to commander because she was “meddling into others’ business.” The allegations come after a 2014 Los Angeles Times investigation found that the LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013. If recorded correctly, the figures for aggravated assaults in the year-long period would have been nearly 14 percent higher, the Times found.
Observation If you are looking for a national summation of data, violent crime is up per the FBI, property crime is down in all three indexes, and Gallup states that personal crime dropped slightly. For a comprehensive overview of crime in America, see National Crime Rates. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for […]
The firearm death rate rose to 12 deaths per 100,000 people last year, up from 11 per 100,000 in 2015, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before that, the rate had hovered just above 10.
The U.S. rate for gun deaths has increased for the second straight year after 15 years of no real change, a government report shows. About two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides and those have been increasing for about 10 years. Until recently, that has been offset by a decline in people shot dead by others. There has been an upswing in those gun-related homicides, too, some experts said, the Associated Press reports. The firearm death rate rose to 12 deaths per 100,000 people last year, up from 11 in 2015, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before that, the rate had hovered just above 10, a level it had fallen to in the late 1990s. In the early 90s, it was as high as 15 per 100,000 people.
In the past two years, sharp homicide increases in Chicago and other places have been large enough to elevate the national statistics. The FBI tally of homicides involving guns rose to nearly 11,000 last year, from about 9,600 the year before. Overall, there were more than 38,000 gun deaths last year, up from about 36,000 in 2015, and around 33,500 each year between 2011 and 2014. The latest CDC report means the nation is approaching two decades since there’s been any substantial improvement in the rate of gun deaths, said Dr. Garen Wintemute of the University of California, Davis. The CDC also reported a continued increase in the death rate from drug overdoses, which hit 20 per 100,000 last year, up from 16 the year before.
According to a joint report released by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.
A study by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice provides a detailed analysis of women’s incarceration in the United States, highlighting in particular the role of wage disparity in high pretrial detention rates for women.
Since 2014, the Prison Policy Initiative has quantified the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and calculated the breakdown of people held by each correctional system by offense in an annual Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report.
Overall, there are currently 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States. Incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails – 99,000 and 96,000, respectively. State prison systems hold twice as many people as jails when looking at the total incarcerated population.
According to the report, drug and property offenses make up more than half (about 120,000) of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, and violent offenses make up about a quarter (about 54,000).
The authors also found that more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.
Prison Policy Initiative’s Legal Director Aleks Kajstura believes that the lower income of incarcerated women, relative to incarcerated men, contributes to this data. A previous study by the Prison Policy Initiative found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071. Among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). Bail is typically set around $10,000.
However even after conviction, about a quarter of women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.
Kajstura adds that this figure is troubling, given that over half of all women in U.S. prisons – and 80% of women in jails – are mothers. This makes children susceptible to issues associated with parental incarceration.
A previous report from the Prison Policy Initiative also found that women in jails are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.
Furthermore, the “Whole Pie” of incarceration only represents 16% of the roughly 1.4 million women under correctional supervision (75% probation, 9% parole), in contrast to the general incarcerated population where about a third of those under correctional control are in prisons and jails.
According to the report, the unrealistic conditions set by probation undermine its goal of keeping people away from incarceration. Steep fees and meetings with probation officers are standard requirements of the probation system. However, women who cannot afford those fees, babysitters/daycare, or transportation often violate the conditions of probation and are returned to jail.
While more data is needed, this report addresses the policy changes needed to end mass incarceration while considering the unique factors affecting women.
The full report can be read here. This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.
Police Van Observation Half (51 percent) of violent victimizations from 2012 to 2015 were intraracial. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information […]
The Columbus Dispatch finds three different agencies with murder statistics for the city ranging from 91 to 106 last year. “I would hope I never go under the knife with a surgeon who is as accurate as your murder numbers,” said Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project.
The FBI counted 91 people killed in Columbus in 2016. The Ohio Department of Public Safety recorded 93. Columbus police, whose detectives are in charge of investigating the deaths, report that 106 people were killed. When the Columbus Dispatch looked into the state’s tally of homicide numbers and cross-checked it with the city’s list, it found discrepancies. One woman was killed but counted twice as a victim; a woman who is still living was included on the list of homicide victims. Her husband reportedly wanted to kill her but never followed through. A total of 14 homicides were missing from the state list. “I would hope I never go under the knife with a surgeon who is as accurate as your murder numbers,” said Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project.
“I didn’t realize the state is showing different numbers,” said Dale Thomas of the Columbus Police Net Unit, which collects crime statistics from the software system PremierOne and sends a monthly report to the state. Every crime category is affected. The city and state use incident-based reporting statistics for crime. That means that if someone is raped, robbed and then killed, crime data is counted three ways — once for a rape, once for a robbery and once for a homicide. In 2007, the Dispatch reported that the city had used the incident-based reporting system for a few years and had similar discrepancies. Jeffrey Butts of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said that law enforcement never has been best equipped for crunching the numbers. Some police departments use civilians with advanced degrees and computers. “Other places, you walk in and it’s full of uniforms,” he said, noting that some departments view crime reporting as a desk job for officers who no longer want to work patrol.