The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities in 2015 “was real and nearly unprecedented,” according to a report released Wednesday by the National Institute of Justice. Its author, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said homicide rates in a sample of 56 large U.S. cities rose by an average of 16.8 percent last year over 2014. He said the increase was “heavily concentrated in a few cities with large African-American populations.”
Rosenfeld suggested three “plausible explanations”: an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin epidemic, reductions in incarceration resulting in a growing number of released prisoners, and a “Ferguson effect” resulting from widely publicized incidents of police use of deadly force against minority citizens. Rosenfeld, a persistent critic of slow-paced release of national crime data, said timely information—such as monthly statistics–could have quantified the trend as it was happening, allowing a more pointed law enforcement response. “The nearly unprecedented homicide increase of 2015 should be all that is necessary to finally move the nation’s crime monitoring system into the 21st century,” he concluded. The 10 cities with the steepest homicide increases were Cleveland, 90.5 percent; Nashville, 82.9; Milwaukee, 72.6; Baltimore, 58.5; Washington, 54.3; Kansas City, 37.2; Houston, 25.2; St. Louis, 18.2; Chicago, 15; and Philadelphia, 12.9.