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Richmond is No. 3 for American cities with a homicide rate problem

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The homicide rate spiked by an average of approximately 10 percent in 45 cities between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2023.

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

The personal finance website compared 45 of the largest cities in the United States based on per capita homicides in the first quarter of 2023, and the per capita homicides in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the first quarters of 2022 and 2021.

The city with the biggest homicide rate problem is Memphis, Tenn., followed by New Orleans, Richmond, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Durham, N.C., Dallas, Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Kansas City.

Experts offered commentary on the reasons for a recent spike in homicide across the U.S.

“Most agree that the recent upsurge in homicides is related to the pandemic, in these respects: with people spending so much time at home and in close confines, domestic violence increased, and some of that resulted in homicides; during this time, Americans have bought record numbers of guns, especially handguns, which also resulted in more homicides; fear and anxiety related to the pandemic and its consequences (including greater economic insecurity) have also fed the homicide increase; programs aimed at stemming community violence, including in areas where it was already a problem, were suspended with funding often frozen or stopped, and these programs have proven successful in reducing violence, especially in high crime areas,” Dr. Robert J. Spitzer, an adjunct professor at the College of William and Mary School of Law and Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus at SUNY Cortland, said.

The ebb and flow nature of crime makes it difficult to identify the causes of crime trends, according to Dr. Chidike I. Okeem, an assistant professor at Western New England University.

“However, there are some possible explanations for the recent increase in homicides. First, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated strains and stressors in socially disorganized neighborhoods where violence has always been more likely to occur. It should be no surprise to see homicide increases in such places. Second, over the past few years, there has been significant social unrest, particularly as a response to the viral videos showing the extrajudicial killings of minorities at the hands of law enforcement. The public reaction to the killing of George Floyd is perhaps the foremost example of this. As a response to the social unrest, some officers have embraced ‘de-policing,’ which is the idea of not engaging in proactive policing practices in order to avoid increased scrutiny and censure. Without pronounced police presence, violence proliferates,” Okeem said.

Increased police funding is necessary to counter the homicide rate, Gregg W. Etter, a professor at the University of Central Missouri, said. Funding would have to include better police training “to avoid some of the problems that have occurred in the use of force and other issues. It will take realistic bail reform to enhance public safety and to ensure defendants actually show up to court.”

Spitzer said rates have started to decline but a lag time exists until data is gathered, reported and analyzed.

“The general decline is probably related to the resumption of normal activities — people finding or resuming jobs, returning to life as normal, a decline in anxiety and fear, and the resumption and re-funding of anti-violence programs. Further, homicides and other crimes have been steadily declining for about the last 30 years (with an upsurge in the last few years), so a decline now may reflect a resumption of that long-term trend,” Spitzer said.

Will more homicides renew police reputation, or have the opposite effect?

“Perspectives on the police have always varied from community to community. Rather than expecting increased homicide rates to magically renew the reputation of the police in communities where their reputation is less than stellar, it would be wiser for the police to take on board the recommendations of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which emphasized the importance of building trust and legitimacy, community policing, and officer education. Police making less of an effort to integrate with the communities where violence is occurring does not bode well for their image in such places,” Okeem said.

Etter said the late Dr. Robert Trojanowicz spoke of the public’s perception of safety as being key to satisfaction with the police.

“An increased homicide rate increases fear among the public and brings into question the effectiveness of the entire criminal justice system. There have been recall elections recently for district attorneys that the public felt were not doing the job,” Etter said.

Rebecca Barnabi

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.