Mixed Crime Picture: Chicago Down, Baltimore Murders Up

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Photo by DanGutierrez via Flickr

Trends in crime rates for 2019 offer some good news, including decreases that offset a spike in 2015 and 2016 in many places, says the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Crime in Chicago is down. Though it hasn’t returned to 2014 levels, compared to late November of last year, reported crimes are down by 10 percent. That decrease is driven partly by significant declines in property crime. Violent crime has fallen by 11 percent.

Robberies and aggravated assaults are down by 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Homicides, which increased sharply between 2015 and 2016 — are down again by about 13 percent, dropping to 452 killings compared to 517 at the same time last year.

Chicago is on track to record fewer than 500 homicides this year, a 35 percent decrease from 2016.

Even if Chicago returned to its 2014 murder rate, that would still be three times higher than the national rate.

In New York City, the number of crimes reported through December 1 is largely unchanged from the prior year. While homicides are up around 8 percent, New York City’s was 30 percent below the national murder rate last year.

In San Francisco, data through October shows significant declines in the number of homicides (down around 18 percent) and reported rapes (down 14 percent) contributing to a 7 percent decrease in violent crimes reported. Property crimes are down 5 percent overall, with the number of reported burglaries falling 16 percent.

These are small declines, considering San Francisco’s high rate of property crime, the third highest last year among cities with populations of 500,000 or more.

It followed only Memphis and Albuquerque, two cities that struggle with poverty and associated crimes.

In Philadelphia, reform-oriented district attorney Larry Krasner eliminated cash bail for most nonviolent offenses, required prosecutors to explain the cost of incarceration when seeking a prison sentence, directed them to seek lighter sentences generally, and dropped some drug cases.

Homicides in Philadelphia increased more than 10 percent in 2018, prompting some concern about the consequences of his reforms. This year, through December 1, violence appears to be stabilizing, with violent crime rising by just 4 percent.

That includes a less than 1 percent rise in the number of homicides; upticks in robbery and aggravated assault account for most of the increase.

The relative stability in violent crime has occurred even as the jail population dropped. In January 2017, the average daily population was 6,807. Two years later, it was down to 4,699.

President Donald Trump argues that the border and border cities are extremely dangerous places and that cities like El Paso, Tx., are kept safe only by draconian immigration policies, physical walls, or both.

Yet El Paso remains one of the nation’s safest cities. In 2018, of the 50 largest cities, El Paso reported the fourth lowest violent crime rate and second lowest crime rate, trailing only Virginia Beach, Va. Through August of this year, the number of crimes and violent crimes is down a little over 3 percent.

Even with the 22 people killed in August in a massacre perpetrated by a white supremacist, El Paso is on track for a very low number of homicides for a city its size. But it’s telling, and tragic, that one person carrying a single assault rifle can double a major city’s murder count in a hate-filled attack.

Baltimore was place where crime and violence spiked in 2015: Baltimore. This year, Baltimore’s story continues to be a mixed one. The total number of crimes reported in the city through November fell by almost 6 percent compared to 2018, with violent crime falling by about 2.5 percent.

Robbery, burglary, theft, and auto theft decreased modestly, while reported rape fell dramatically — with law enforcement documenting nearly 26 percent fewer offenses.

The murder total rose. Through November, there were 313 homicides reported — an increase of 31 from the same time in 2018. This increase could offset the progress the city made last year, when the city’s homicide total dropped by roughly 10 percent, from 342 to 309.

Among 24 similarly sized cities, just two saw higher violent crimes rates than Baltimore in 2018: Detroit and Memphis.

The Brennan Center says it is too soon to draw national conclusions, but the declines in Chicago point in a positive direction.

The center says that 2019 data so far point to “significant public safety gains in some major cities and stabilization in others. The few trouble spots also indicate the need for targeted, smart solutions to urban violence.”

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