Several Big U.S. Cities See Homicide Rates Surge

Aamer Madhani, USA Today, July 9, 2015

After seeing years of decline in violent crime, several major American cities experienced a dramatic surge in homicides during the first half of this year.

Milwaukee, which had one of its lowest annual homicide totals in city history last year, has recorded 84 murders so far this year, more than double the 41 it tallied at the same point last year.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the mounting homicide toll in his city of 600,000 is being driven by Wisconsin’s “absurdly weak” gun laws (carrying a concealed weapon without a state-issued concealed carry is a misdemeanor in the Badger State), a subculture within the city that affirms the use of deadly violence to achieve status and growing distrust of police in some parts of the city.

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Baltimore, New Orleans and St. Louis have also seen the number of murders jump 33% or more in 2015. Meanwhile, Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, has seen the homicide toll climb by 19% and the number of shooting incidents increase in the city by 21% during the first half of the year.

In all the cities, the increased violence is disproportionately impacting poor and predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. In parts of Milwaukee, the sound of gunfire has become so expected that about 80% of gunfire detected by ShotSpotter sensors aren’t even called into police by residents, Flynn said.

“We’ve got folks out there living in neighborhoods, where . . . it’s just part of the background noise,” Flynn told USA TODAY. “That’s what we’re up against.”

Criminologists are quick to note that the surge in murders in many big American cities come after years of declines in violent crime in major metros throughout the USA. Big cities saw homicides peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s as crack-cocaine wreaked havoc on many urban areas.

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So far this year, Baltimore has recorded 155 homicides, including three people who were killed late Tuesday evening near the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus. The 2015 homicide toll is 50 higher than it was at the same point last year.

On Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced that she was firing Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, because of the spike in murders in the city.

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The Charm City, which is seeing some of the worst violence since the 1990s when it routinely tallied 300 murders annually, recorded 42 killings in May alone.

In St. Louis, there have been 93 homicides compared with 58 at the same point last year. The increased violence this year in St. Louis follows the city recording a more than 30% increase in murders in 2014, when police in the city saw a steep rise in violence following the shooting death last August of Michael Brown, a black teenager, in nearby Ferguson by a white police officer.

Police have made arrests in only 29 of the 2015 homicide cases, suggesting witnesses are increasingly showing a reluctance to come forward.

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New Orleans has recorded 98 homicides so far this year compared with 72 at the same point last year, according to a count kept by Scharf, the LSU analyst.

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In Washington, D.C., the homicide count stands at 73 compared with 62 last year. Police and politicians in the nation’s capital have connected the spike in murders to the influx of synthetic drugs, including K2, spice and others which are said to mimic the effects of marijuana.

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