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Understanding Recent Spikes and Longer Trends in American Murders

62 Pages Posted: 4 May 2017 Last revised: 21 Jun 2017

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

Daniel C. Richman

Columbia Law School

Date Written: May 3, 2017

Abstract

Since 2015, homicide rates have increased in several U.S. cities, while remaining stable in many others. Examining both recent and long-term trends in homicides and other violent crime across major cities, we find no reason to believe that these increases presage a new homicide epidemic, or that we will return to the era of elevated homicide rates that persisted in many U.S. cities over three decades through the mid-1990s. The homicide spikes may be momentary upticks in the two-decade long-term decline, and may also signal a new era of unpredictable and random surges or declines during an otherwise stable period.

We note that the spikes are generally occurring in smaller cities, with the important exception of Chicago. We then look at the neighborhood conditions in high crime areas in three large cities and show how the intersection of aggressive policing tactics and social contexts likely contribute to small areas of elevated homicide rates in otherwise safe cities. In each place, harsh police tactics, social isolation and disadvantage, and unsolved murders contribute to the withdrawal of citizens and police from the co-production of security. This Essay argues for a shift in policing tactics from order maintenance and proactive police contacts—with their potential to produce injustices and indignities—to a focus on homicide investigations, with the promise both of bringing offenders to justice, creating safe spaces for everyday social interactions, and restoring trust in the police.

Keywords: homicide, crime, criminal law, policing

Suggested Citation

Fagan, Jeffrey and Richman, Daniel C., Understanding Recent Spikes and Longer Trends in American Murders (May 3, 2017). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 117, No. 5, 2017; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-546. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2962676

Jeffrey Fagan (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2624 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Jeffrey_Fagan

Daniel C. Richman

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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