Director’s Corner: Explaining the Recent Rise in Violent Crime

As Director of NIJ, it is my responsibility to ensure we use science to address the multitude of complex criminal justice challenges we face today. Over the past year, the increase in homicides in several American cities has captured the attention of this Administration, respective federal agencies, local police departments, and media outlets. Although many debates have ensued and commentaries abound, objective, scientific work to inform such conversations has been limited.

Over the past year, the increase in homicides in several American cities has captured the attention of the nation, but objective, scientific work to inform such conversations has been limited.

In order to bring scientific evidence to the forefront of discussions on the homicide increase, I commissioned Dr. Richard Rosenfeld to write a white paper on this topic. Dr. Rosenfeld is Founders Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a leading authority on criminal violence, crime statistics, and crime control policy. He most recently served as the Chair of the National Academies’ Roundtable on Crime Trends and is a member of the Science Advisory Board at the Office of Justice Programs.

Research can help us better understand fluctuations in homicide rates and provide context to better inform policymaker responses to those changes. Dr. Rosenfeld examined whether there was a historically unexpected rise in homicides and presents possible explanations for the increase across U.S. cities. The prominent explanations for the homicide increase, include:

  • The expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin epidemic;
  • Declining imprisonment rates;
  • De-policing and the crisis of legitimacy between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Dr. Rosenfeld relies on available evidence from multiple sources, to document the 2015 homicide increase in 56 large U.S. cities, finding that the 2015 homicide increase was “real and nearly unprecedented.” He also outlines several empirical indicators and methods to examine the possible explanations for the 2015 homicide increase as well as the challenges that exist to empirically evaluating these explanations.

Today, I am pleased to announce the public release of this white paper, “Documenting and Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise: Research Directions (pdf, 31 pages).” In order to move the debate forward, Dr. Rosenfeld proposes directions for future empirical research and discusses the vital role that timely release of crime data play in effectively responding to violence in our communities. I look forward to investing in research that advances this work and hope you all take the time to read this important paper.

Date Created: June 15, 2016