The new homicide analysis that takes demographics into account puts Los Angeles near the middle of the pack – 24th on a list of 67 large American cities in 2002, and 42nd on the same list in 2003. The Los Angeles Times says the finding suggests that Los Angeles’ high murder number can mostly be explained by its high poverty rate and other demographic characteristics. The Times said the researchers were surprised to find that, if differences in wealth, demographics, and racial composition were taken into account, San Francisco ranked first in the nation in homicides in both 2002 and 2003. San Francisco’s homicide rate of about nine per every 100,000 people is moderate by traditional standards. The rate is strikingly high given San Francisco’s wealth and low-risk demographics, researchers said. The broader finding is that big cities may not be the crucibles of violent crime they are assumed to be. Poverty and homicide tend to go hand in hand.
Besides San Francisco, other medium-sized cities emerged with higher-than-expected rankings, including Riverside, Anaheim, San Jose, and Santa Ana. all in Calfornia; Omaha; Raleigh, N.C.; Albuquerque; Anchorage; and Seattle. Factors other than socioeconomics or demographics – cultural or policing issues – might be pushing homicides up in those places, said criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Officials in cities that came out high on the adjusted scale voiced surprise. Some argued that taking into account variables like poverty doesn’t account for the idiosyncrasies of such places as San Francisco – with its vast spread between rich and poor – or Anchorage, where usual rules linking wealth and employment are turned upside down by a seasonal labor market.