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Does an increased homicide rate increase the need for police in American cities?

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The homicide rate has decreased by an average of roughly 7 percent in 45 of America’s biggest cities between the fourth quarter of 2021 and the fourth quarter of 2022.

WalletHub released its report on Cities With the Biggest Homicide Rate Problems.

The personal finance website compared 45 of the largest U.S. cities based on per capita homicides in the fourth quarter of 2022 as well as per capita homicides in fourth quarter of 2022 vs. fourth quarter of 2021 and fourth quarter of 2020.

Chesapeake is the sixth-ranked city in the U.S. with a big homicide rate problem. Atlanta is the city with the biggest homicide rate problem, followed by Baltimore, Detroit, Las Vegas and Kansas City. No. 7 is Chicago, followed by Memphis, Jacksonville, Fla. and Denver.

A few experts provided commentary on why a recent spike in homicides has occurred in the United States.

“A large part of this is due to quality-of-life issues, lack of community and lack of resources in cities and towns,” Dr. Erin Grant, associate professor at Washburn University, said. “When COVID hit, many people were left to stay at home with their family members, working remotely, potentially with children who were also learning from home. This led to exacerbated mental and physical health issues; those who were out of work or with employment without the benefit of insurance coverage were unable to get treatment for such needs.

“Many people lost their jobs, or were permitted less hours, leading to an increase in those living in poverty,” Grant said. “Which is a serious strain on anyone. People whose children counted on food at school had to scramble to figure out how to ensure their children. People living in violent and abusive homes were often trapped in this environment. when there is no way to escape this situation, things can turn from bad to worse. While most people were at home, they were asked to socially distance… rather than physically distance.

“The sense of community and relationships in general were damaged. There was a collective experience of trauma that has yet to be addressed,” Grant said.

Jorge X. Camacho is Clinical Lecturer of Policing, Law, and Policy and Director of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School. Camacho said an increased homicide rate’s impact on police reputation depends on whether you believe police can control the rate of violence.

“Studies have continually found that the impact of conventional policing on crime rates is weak, if at all existent. Nonetheless, we do rely on the police to investigate homicides and bring offenders to justice (though the national homicide clearance rate according to the FBI is only about 50 percent). Again, the extent to which you credit or fault police for homicide rates also depends on the kind of homicides being committed. Public pressure on police to reduce homicide rates tends to be considerably stronger when the violence is public in nature, like gangland violence. However, the police are less faulted for increases in rates of interpersonal violence, like domestic violence or inter-familial conflict, even when that violence results in death. Simply, police are expected to police our streets, but not our personal lives and we evaluate their performance accordingly,” Camacho said.

Dr. Brian N. Williams, associate professor at UVA, said policing stays in a precarious position, and it is difficult to say if more homicides will renew police reputation in communities.

“My research, which is grounded in the lived personal and professional experiences of community residents and first responders like police officers, surfaces that a renewal of the reputation requires acknowledging and addressing disparate police service delivery and interactions or encounters with the police that play out along the color and socio-economic lines. My research and the research of others brings some clarity — the American public is not anti-policing per se, but anti-bad policing,” Williams said.

How has the homicide rate increase impacted life in U.S. cities?

“Overall, the past few years have seen a marked increase in public unease and increased perceptions of disorder. Increased homicide rates only contributed to this diminished outlook, even if on an individual basis someone is statistically just as safe as they were before the homicide rate increase. The fact is that most homicides are committed by people who are known by or otherwise connected to their victims; rates of homicides among strangers are comparatively lower. This means that an individual’s risk of becoming a victim of violence is not always correlated to the general rate of violence. But personal perceptions are not determined by statistics, they are determined by the information a person is receiving and, by and large, that information has been negative, including persistent media depictions of increased violence and personal risk,” Camacho said.

Williams said that fear of random crime and violence has always been a driving force with impact on public perception of public safety, public order and the community’s wellbeing.

“As a result, there comes an increase in sensitivity to the overall quality of life or the standard of health, security, contentment, and happiness at both the individual and communal level when crime and violence is random. The decrease in quality of life can have effects beyond the social at the individual and communal level, to the organizational at the institutional level, and to the economic at the local, regional, state, and national level. For example, the increased rate in homicides, especially those in more public settings, can impact the willingness to shop at retail stores and shopping districts. The decrease in revenue impacts local taxes and local governments, with negative rippling effects for the provision of needed financial and human services that support and sustain policing efforts that are effective. Inadequate or insufficient resources exacerbates ‘the great resignation’ attrition rates for officers and create real hurdles in recruiting and replacing needed police personnel,” Williams said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.