The Washington Post published its own calculation and analysis of homicide increases in the largest U..S. cities last year, reported here earlier this week. Homicides in the 50 largest cities rose nearly 17 percent last year, the greatest increase in lethal violence in a quarter century. An analysis of preliminary crime data found that about 770 more people were killed in major cities last year than the year before, the worst annual change since 1990. The killings increased as some law enforcement officials and conservative commentators warned that violent crime was on the rise amid a climate of hostility toward police. They said protests and intense scrutiny of officers who used lethal force had caused officers to become disengaged from their jobs, making streets more dangerous. Some have called it the “Ferguson effect,” after the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014.
A closer look at the figures suggests no single explanation for the increases and reveals no clear pattern among those cities that experienced the most horrific violence. Several cities that recorded the largest increases in homicides, such as Nashville and Washington, D.C., had no widely publicized, racially charged killings by police. Many other big cities recorded modest increases or even declines in the number of homicides, with no deviation from the pattern of recent years. Also, undermining the theory that police have become generally disengaged, a preliminary FBI report released last week showed that the overall number of violent offenses increased just 1.7 percent nationally during the first half of the year while the number of property crimes declined 4.2 percent. Public safety has been improving for two decades, and lethal violence in large cities is still rare by historical standards. Twice as many people were killed in those 50 cities in 1991 as in 2015. “You certainly wouldn’t want to say the sky is falling,” said Darrel Stephens of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.