In a deep dive into homicide statistics, the Wall Street Journal finds that improvements or deterioration in a small cluster of big-city neighborhoods can have an oversized impact on national murder rates.
Murder in America is deeply local, the Wall Street Journal concludes in a two-part series published this week. Homicides in the U.S. rose about 9 percent last year, according to the FBI, and more than one-third of the increase was concentrated in a cluster of Chicago neighborhoods. Meanwhile, improvements in a cluster of Los Angeles neighborhoods accounted for one quarter of the 13 percent drop in U.S. murders between 2002 and 2014.The paper analyzed the locations of thousands of homicides in four cities: Chicago and Baltimore, where violence has risen to or near 1990s levels in the past two years; and Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where meaningful declines in violence have been sustained since the 1990s.
The data show that the neighborhoods where killings have soared in Chicago and Baltimore share worsening poverty, high numbers of vacant houses, and a lighter street presence by police following officers’ high-profile killings of young black men. In Washington and Los Angeles, gang interventions and community policing, which seeks closer contact with residents to gain trust and even information in to address crime, have helped produce long-term reductions in murders. Gentrification in the nation’s capital also has played an important role in keeping violence down. George Mason University criminologist David Weisburd said his research has shown that about 1 percent of city streets produce 25 percent of a city’s crime, and 5 percent of the streets produce half the crime. He calls it the “law of crime concentration.”