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Assessing and Responding to the Recent Homicide Rise in the United States

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2017
46 pages
This analysis considers two explanations of the increase in big-city homicides in 2015 and 2016, so as to guide future research.
One proposed explanation of the homicide rise is the expansion in illicit drug markets due to the expansion of the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic. A second explanation is the “Ferguson effects,” named for the city that experienced a highly publicized community reaction to perceptions of police abuse of power. This paper hypothesizes that the Ferguson effects have resulted in the withdrawal of some police resources from high-crime areas and a questioning of police intentions, fairness, and effectiveness in addressing violence. Larger increases in drug-related homicides than in other types of homicide constitute preliminary evidence that expansions in illicit drug markets have contributed to the overall homicide increase. Current evidence of the Ferguson effects in the homicide increase are mixed at best. Surveys of police show widespread concern about police-community tensions and reductions in proactive policing in the aftermath of widely publicized deadly encounters between police and African-Americans. Nationwide, arrest-offense ratios and arrest clearance rates decreased in 2015, but they had been declining for several years when homicide rates were declining. One study indicated that calls for police service declined after a controversial violent encounter between police and an unarmed African-American in Milwaukee. The reduction in calls for services was greater in African-American neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods. The rate at which the police are contacted is only one of several indicators needed to measure any connection between diminished police legitimacy and the recent increase in homicides. The authors emphasize the provisional nature of their hypotheses regarding the recent homicide increase. Recommendations for research on these hypotheses are provided. 1 table, 15 figures, and 95 references
Date Created: November 15, 2017