A spike in murders in many cities is claiming a startling number of victims with criminal records, reports USA Today. That suggests that drug and gang wars are behind the escalating violence. Police increasingly explore criminal pasts of homicide victims as well as suspects as they search for sources of the violence, which has risen the past two years after a decade of decline.
In Baltimore, about 91 percent of murder victims this year had criminal records, up from 74 percent a decade ago. In many cases, says Frederick Bealefeld III, Baltimore’s interim police commissioner, victims’ rap sheets provide critical links to potential suspects in botched drug deals or violent territorial disputes. Criminologist David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice says the rise in criminals killing criminals has escaped policymakers’ attention. “The notion that these (murders) are random bolts of lightning, which is the commonly held image, is not the reality,” says Kennedy, who has examined the backgrounds of murder suspects and victims in many U.S. cities. “It happens, but it doesn’t happen often.”