Homicides have spiked by nearly 50 percent in the first half of this year in St. Louis, compared with 2014, and no one is quite sure why or what to do about it, says the Washington Post. Some blame the “Ferguson effect,” the notion that police are avoiding aggressive tactics because they fear scrutiny or criminal charges after Michael Brown's death by police gunfire one year ago. Violent crime in St. Louis began creeping up months before Brown's shooting, says criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Except for the first few months after Brown's death, when violent protests were raging, he said, arrest rates have remained constant.
That's left police and community leaders pondering more prosaic explanations, such as increased gang violence, expanding drug markets, too many guns with too few consequences or too few social programs. “It's alarming,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, “because it is difficult to ascribe a single concrete reason for it.” Although the trend in St. Louis and some other big cities concerns law enforcement leaders, criminologists are counseling patience. “I know there is a tendency to look at any type of crime increase and say the sky is falling,” said Eric Piza of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It's going to take a little bit of time before we're able to digest what is happening.” Franklin Zimring, director of criminal justice studies at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, noted that killings are up slightly in New York, but the city is still on pace to end the year with one of its lowest homicide rates in modern history. “Crime is low in most cities in the United States and at levels the public is quite comfortable with,” he said.