The homicide rates of the 40 largest cities in the United States have decreased between the second quarters of 2021 and 2023, according to a new study of local crime statistics by WalletHub.
Their analysis shows homicide rates have fallen “by an average of roughly 5 percent” in these large cities from the second quarters of 2021 to 2023.
Despite the decline, some cities face significant challenges in addressing their homicide rate problems.
Memphis, Tennessee, topped the list of cities with the biggest homicide rate problems, followed by St. Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri.
Cities Facing Most Problems
Memphis saw a rise in the number of homicides per capita compared to St. Louis, which saw a decline. The homicide rate in St. Louis was 16.18 homicides per 100,000 people, while Memphis’s rate was 11.2.
However, Memphis has seen two years of growth in its homicide cases per capita, while St. Louis has seen two years of decline.
WalletHub’s analysis, based on per capita homicides and U.S. Census data, compared data from Q2 2023 with that of Q2 2022 and 2021 to determine the cities with the most significant homicide rate problems.
The homicide rate per capita in Q2 2023 was ranked at 50 percent of the total score, while the remaining 50 percent of the total score took into account the change in per capita homicides in Q2 2023 vs. Q2 2022 and 2021.
Memphis and St. Louis were followed closely by Kansas City, Missouri, which in Q2 of 2023 had 6.96 homicide cases per 100,000 residents.
The change in homicide cases per capita in Kansas City from the second quarters of 2023, 2022, and 2021 was the highest of any city, growing by a rate of 3.98. The cases per capita also rose from 2022 by 0.60.
Washington, D.C., was ranked fourth, with a per capita rate of 8.78 per 100,000 residents, also seeing two years of an increase in homicides.
Detroit, Michigan, filled out the top five, with a homicide rate of 10.69 per 100,000 residents. Detroit has seen two years of declining homicide rates.
The top ten is filled out by Richmond, Virginia; St. Petersburg, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Cities Facing Fewer Homicide Problems
The safest large cities, according to the rankings, are Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Raleigh, North Carolina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Sacramento, California.
Austin had a Q2 2023 homicide rate of only 1.16 per 100,000 residents and has seen two years of declines. Bostin saw 0.59 homicides per 100,000 residents in Q2 of this year and has also seen two years of decline.
The remaining top five have seen two years of declining rates of homicide per 100,000 residents. For Q2 of this year, Raleigh had 0.65 homicides per 100,000 people; Philadelphia had 5.70; and Sacramento had 0.19, which was the lowest rate of all of these cities for Q2 of this year.
Rounding out the remaining top ten cities with fewer homicide problems were Jacksonville, Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Tucson, Arizona.
Democrat Versus Republican Led Cities
The report also looks at the difference between blue cities, or cities with a Democratic mayor, vs. red cities, or cities with a Republican mayor.
The report states, “Blue cities have [seen] a higher increase in homicide rates than red cities.”
The average ranking of Democrat cities out of the top 40 is 19.6, while Republican-led cities average a ranking of 23.8 out of the top 40.
Of the top ten cities facing the largest homicide problems, nine of the ten are led by a Democratic mayor. Only number ten, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is led by a Republican mayor.
The report emphasizes the need for concerted efforts to address the issues facing America’s largest cities.
Dennis Mares, the Director of the Center for Crime Science and Violence Prevention at Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville, suggests that focusing on gun offenders through “focused deterrence” programs and implementing surveillance technology can aid in reducing gun violence.
“Homicides are ‘sticky’ to some extent,” he said in a press release announcing the study. “A lot of the killings in the streets are retaliatory, and this process can be somewhat self-sustaining regardless of what we try to do. That said, I think the key is to have police focus on the small number of people involved in gun violence and then prosecute these gun offenders.”
Smarter gun legislation, without banning specific guns, but rather by reducing the flow of guns from legal to illegal users, could make a significant difference in curbing homicides.
“I am not talking about banning specific guns because that is a political non-starter,” he said. “What we do need are ways to reduce the flow of guns from legal to illegal users. At present, there is almost zero accountability for people who purchased a gun legally and resell it to criminals; that really is unconscionable and undercuts what the ATF can do to prosecute unscrupulous individuals.”
Police Reputation and Recruiting Troubles
Gary D. LaFree, the Founding Director of the START Center at the University of Maryland, emphasizes the challenge of increasing confidence in the police and the legal system, as well as improving arrest clearance rates for violent crimes.
He also acknowledges the need to address trust issues between African American communities and the police, as low levels of trust can hinder efforts to combat crime effectively.
The impact of crime rates on the reputation of the police remains a subject of debate. While some segments of society have called for defunding the police, surveys show that the majority of the nation still supports professional policing.
“I am not sure that crime rates necessarily impact police reputation,” Mares said. “While a small but vocal segment of our society has called for defunding the police, the majority of our nation continues to support professional policing, something surveys continue to show. Police do have a recruitment problem, but this is more an outcome of our labor market conditions.”
Looking ahead to the second half of 2023, the experts interviewed for the report agree that new solutions may not be necessary, as effective strategies to reduce crime already exist.
“I think we need honest policymakers,” Mares added. “The right needs to acknowledge that having no restrictions on firearms impacts the ease with which high-risk people can access firearms, whereas the left should acknowledge that de-policing and de-prosecuting are not sound strategies.”
The two experts say the challenge lies in the implementation of pragmatic, centrist policies that address the issue without polarizing politics.
While early indicators suggest a decrease in homicides in many cities, there is still a long way to go to regain the positive trajectory of the past decade.
“Prediction is very risky in social science,” LaFree added. “I will say that crime in America tends to be ‘wave-like.’ No one really wants high crime rates. We usually come up with ways of responding.”