The U.S. cut its national homicide rate from 9.8 per 100,000 in 1991 to 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014, which the Washington Post calls “a dramatic social accomplishment that saved not only tens of thousands of lives but probably billions of dollars, too.” There are troubling signs this achievement may be in peril. In the 50 largest U.S. cities in 2015, the number of homicides rose 17 percent, from 4,554 in 2014 to 5,321 in 2015, reflecting increases in homicides in 36 of the 50 jurisdictions.
No one should respond to these data, troubling though they are, with alarm or panic, the Post contends in an editorial. In many cities, the murder rate increases last year represented upticks from what were low levels in historical terms. The “Ferguson effect,” in which police purportedly have balked at aggressive law enforcement for fear of public criticism, may or may not be real, the Post says. The paper adds that under-reaction can be risky, too. “Recent experience with surging big-city violence needs to be studied carefully, but urgently, and solutions tried in the same spirit,” says the Post. “Having cut the national homicide rate by about half in the past quarter-century, why not set a goal of halving it again, and in less time?”