Amid contradictory statistics wielded by Donald Trump and others for political purposes, the Center for Public Integrity concludes that its “reality check on crime” contains “some disturbing news.” The investigative news organization compared murder statistics for America’s 10 most populous cities for the first half of 2016 with those of the same period last year. There was a 20 percent increase overall, and nine of the 10 showed gains, with big percentage spikes in Phoenix, San Antonio, San Jose and Chicago. The exception was New York, which had a modest decline.
Why the increase? Some cite a “Ferguson effect,” in which cops pull back from aggressive enforcement. Some blame a rise in gang activity, while others point to a relentless proliferation of guns in the hands of young people. A less-explored, if admittedly imperfect explanation: more young people. Criminologists have traditionally argued that ages 15-24 are the crime-prone years, and the number of people in that age cohort has fluctuated over recent history. There were 42 million of them in 1980, when violent crime was rising, but the total was down to 38 million by 1990; crime started to ebb just a few years later, aided by the end of the crack epidemic. However, the number of 15-24-year-olds jumped to 44 million by 2012, and has stayed relatively close to that number since.