Despite increases, the city’s murder rate is still far below the toll of the 1990s and early 2000s. Economic factors and the opioid epidemic are cited.
Phoenix homicides rose again in 2017 after a disturbing spike in 2016, the Arizona Republic reports. There were at least 152 homicides through mid-December, compared with 146 in all of 2016. The uptick comes on the heels of a sharp increase in 2016, when homicides rose 29 percent from a historic low of 113 in 2015. Although 2017 lacked many of the sensational multi-victim crimes that occurred the previous year, a steady number of shootings pushed the tally higher than it’s been in a decade. While experts say the increases are troubling, the number of Phoenix’s homicides is still far below the death toll seen in the 1990s and early 2000s. Between 1994 and 2007, the city consistently topped 200 homicides per year. The most violent year was 2003, with 241.
Phoenix’s recent upswing is part of a national trend. In 2015, after years on the decline, the FBI reported a 12.1 percent increase in homicides since 2014. Another spike followed in 2016, with homicides rising by 8.6 percent. Arizona State University criminologist Scott Decker said Phoenix’s homicide rate is quite low compared with the worst rates in large cities. In 2016, Phoenix had about nine homicides per 100,000 people. St. Louis, the city with the highest homicide rate, had about 59 murders per 100,000, Chicago had about 28, and Atlanta had about 24. Decker said only a small portion of homicide rates can be attributed to policing or legislative policies. More significant factors are economic changes. “We know that the two best crime-control policies are marriage and jobs, far better than anything we do with police and with corrections,” he said. Decker pointed to two trends that may have an impact on murder rates: prisoners released no modern job skills, and the opioid epidemic.