Washington, D.C., is one of three cities alongside Baltimore and Chicago that account for more than half of the surge in the number of murders nationwide between 2014 and 2015, according to a study released last Wednesday by the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.
The second annual report, which examined crime in the United States’ 30 largest cities through 2015, found that in Washington alone, the murder rate increased by 54.3 percent from 105 in 2014 to 162 in 2015.
According to the report, although the crime rate is at an all-time low in the nation with a 0.1 percent decrease from 2014, the murder rate leaped 13.2 percent in D.C., Baltimore and Chicago. The reports listed these three cities as having declining populations, higher poverty rates and higher unemployment rates than the national average.
The Brennan Center said the surge in murders in these three cities may have been caused by small numerical increases.
“Murder rates vary widely from year to year, and there is little evidence of a national coming wave in violent crime. These serious increases seem to be localized, rather than part of a national pandemic, suggesting that community conditions remain the major factor,” the study reads.
According to James Cullen, a research and program associate in the Brennan Center for Justice, the competing trends of reduced crime with increased murder rates highlight the need for a multifaceted approach to analyzing crime.
“While Washington, D.C., saw less crime, mostly because burglaries and motor vehicle thefts went down, it saw more violent activity, such as robberies and murders,” Cullen wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This was true for many cities, but illustrates that talking about crime alone or murder alone often does not give a full picture.”
While Cullen emphasized the difficulty of making generalizations at a national level based on a one-year sample, he acknowledged the inconsistency present in Washington, Baltimore and Chicago compared with the rest of the country.
“The data suggests that the nation is on the same trend towards greater safety, but something is happening in those cities,” Cullen wrote. “We did not study these cities closely and do not want to guess the cause of the spikes. And it’s hard to know after one year. We will have to wait and see.”
Cullen said compiling the study was a rigorous exercise of data collection and analysis.
“The study itself was quite involved, and took time,” Cullen wrote. “We had to gather the data, only some of which is available publicly, sort through the different definitions of various crimes to ensure a uniform analysis, and determine a methodology before we could go about analyzing the data and drawing conclusions from it.”
Georgetown sociology professor William McDonald attributed the increase in murders to a possible shift in the population cohort of 15- to 25-year-olds and the District’s high population density.
“The crime rate will increase even if at the individual level people are committing the same number of crimes per year,” McDonald wrote in an email to The Hoya. “In D.C., the population density may have increased due to gentrification process forcing lower income people to share space or accept tight living conditions.”
Cullen said while the study may be useful for policymakers, it was intended for public consumption in order to dispel the misconception that crime has been rising nationally over recent years.
“Very few people are talking about the fact that the murder rate is half of what it was 25 years ago, and that crime has fallen across the country,” Cullen wrote. “Some cities have clearly seen a spike in murders, like Washington, D.C. That cannot, and should not, be ignored. But from everything we’ve seen in the data, that is a localized spike.”
Georgetown Against Gun Violence member Katherine Cienkus (SFS ’18) said gun violence contributes to a cycle of crime and poverty nationally.
“As college students in the area who have the potential to work on these issues, we must recognize that one death by guns is one too many, and how violence systemically destroys communities and continues the cycle of poverty and violence,” Cienkus said. “Awareness is a huge part of the problem, but engagement is what we should strive for.”
Allie Little (COL ’18) said as a current resident of D.C., she is upset by the increasing rates of murder in D.C.
“The high rate of gun violence obviously makes me sad, but it also makes me want to empower people to figure out why it exists, because I don’t like that statistic. I don’t like that we live in a city like that,” Little said.
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