CPRC Report: ‘Murder isn’t a nationwide problem’ By: P. H. Everett

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United States murder distribution by county. (Photo: Crime Prevention Research Center)

A recently published report from the Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) claims, “[Murder] is a problem in a small set of urban areas and even in those counties murders are concentrated in a small area inside them.”

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The study evaluates the distribution of murders across the United States through 2020, comparing them to previous years, and the conclusion is staggering.

The number of murders reached a high in 2020 with COVID lockdowns, riots, and protests across the U.S. Murders increased nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020.

What the study found was that 5% of counties accounted for 73% of the entire country’s murders. Even more astounding, only 1% – 31 counties – accounted for 42% of murders nationwide.

Further, 68% of U.S. counties had one or fewer murders, and over half of the counties (52%) reported no murders at all for the entire year.

This concentration of murders has existed for decades but has increased over the last several years. The study explains, “The most dangerous 5% of the counties accounted for 71% of the murders in 2010, falling to 69% in 2014, and then rising to 73% by 2020.”

Population Distibution

Taking into account the population distribution, the study discovered that between 2010 and 2020, while the number of murders fluctuated in the worse 5% of counties, the overall population distribution remained the same. The worse 1% of counties contained 21% of the nation’s population in 2010, 2014, 2016, and 2020.

Figure 6 shows the changes in the share of murders in the 5% of the worst countswere not driven by changes in their share of the population.

The Top of the List

Illinois’ Cook County, which contains the city of Chicago, had the highest number of reported murders in 2020 with a staggering 775. Chicago itself holds 40% of the state’s population.

Following Cook County is:

  • Los Angeles County, 691 murders
  • Harris County, Texas, 537 murders
  • Philadelphia County, 495 murders
  • New York City’s five counties, a combined 465 murders
  • Wayne County, Michigan, 379 murders
  • Shelby County, Tennessee, 311 murders
  • Maricopa County, Arizona, 299 murders
  • Baltimore City county, 291 murders
  • Dallas County, 281 murders
  • Marion County, Indiana, 234 murders

Increased Concentration

The study also found that within individual counties murders are also further concentrated. Breaking down Los Angeles, for example, the study found that 10% of the zip codes accounted for 41% of the county’s murders. The worse 20% of zip codes contained 67% of murders.

In David L. Weisburd’s separate report, he demonstrated that in eight cities about half of the violent crime occurred on only 5 percent of the streets.

Gun Ownership

A 2021 PEW Research Center Survey estimated that gun ownership is 79% higher in rural areas and 37.9% higher in the suburbs when compared to urban areas. It is also interesting to note that the areas with stricter firearms regulations, like Los Angeles and Chicago, are at the top of the list.

The new study states, “One should not put much weight on this purely ‘cross-sectional’ evidence over one point in time, and many factors determine murder rates. However, it is still interesting to note that so much of the country has both very high gun ownership rates and zero murders.”

This study shows a fact that a vast majority of the country fails to recognize; “murder isn’t a nationwide problem” but where it is a problem, many believe “any solution must reduce those murders.”

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