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Murder Rates Rising Sharply – Is More Policing The Answer?

The New York Times article Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities by Monica Davey and Mitch Smith on August 31, 2015, reports that cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines. Milwaukee, New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington, St. Louis and Chicago are among the cities that have reported increases in violence.

There are multiple theories for the sudden increase in crime. Rivalries among organized street gangs, drug turfs, and availability of guns are a few factors. Many police officials say they are seeing an increase in young men using violence to settle ordinary disputes in poor neighborhoods. Another theory is the “Ferguson effect” where intense national scrutiny of the use of force by the police has made officer less aggressive and emboldened criminals.

The article reports that the police superintendent in Chicago, Gary McCarthy, thought an abundance of guns was a major factor in the city’s homicide spike. This is not a situation that can be solved by policing. The logic is that the more police we have, the less crime there will be. While many public officials and police superintendents promote that view, many social scientists often claim the opposite. Some social scientists believe that police only make minimal contributions to crime prevention. For example, police are supposed to prevent shootings, not homicides. Typically, the police have no impact on whether or not someone lives or dies after a gun is fired. Whether additional police prevent crimes may depend on how well they are focused on specific objectives, tasks, places times and people.

The Chicago Justice Project reports data that clearly detail the City of Chicago has more police officers than any of the top four largest cities in the country. The data also shows that the CPD has been among the top two in officers per 100,000 residents since at least 1995. The CJP has pulled data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports showing that in 2010, 12,525 officers were employed and 432 homicides occurred. The chart below shows that the total number of homicides has plummeted in Chicago since 1995 while, more or less, the total number of officers in Chicago has stayed relatively the same.



Total Homicides


















Chicago Justice Project collected from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports

Chicago’s homicide toll stood at 203 as of June 28, up from 171 at the same time last year, according to a USA Today Report. The weekend of 4th of July was an especially violent one across the nation. On July 3 along Lake Michigan, a 14 year old boy was shot in the back of the head while he was leaving an annual fireworks celebration. According to the boy’s mother, the police were no more than fifty feet away. The Chief of police stated that he was among those close enough to hear the shots and that dozens of officers were near the lake. Even with increased police presence the shooting was not prevented.

In Chicago, seven-year-old Amari Brown, was struck by a bullet that was likely intended for his father. Chicago Police superintendent told reporters that although the CPD had a third more manpower on the street for the holiday weekend, it didn’t make a difference. As a result, the CPD got more guns, but that won’t stop the violence.

Although there are many theories as to the increase in homicides, more police is not the answer to diminishing the violence. The Chicago Justice Project and many other organizations across the country continue to collect data that show the effects of a higher police to resident ratio. Typically police have no impact on whether someone lives or dies after a gun is fired, and more police do not necessarily prevent or deter the gun from firing.


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