Perhaps only in America would 415 murders in a big city be considered a positive trend. Yet Chicago's 2013 homicide count returned that city to a “normal” level in a 12-month period about which a policing expert said, “It wasn't a bad year ...”
The murder total in Oklahoma City was down 20 percent in 2013, dropping to “only” 79 — well below the 102 high mark set in 1979 (mass murders such as the 1995 Murrah bombing aren't included in homicide statistics). Across the nation, homicides varied widely. Chicago was joined in a decline by Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. On the other hand, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Newark, N.J., saw spikes in homicides last year.
Overall, homicides in this country are on a downward trend, USA Today reported Friday. Yet a burst of violence can shatter not only the calm and sense of security but the statistics as well. In a two-day period last summer, six people were murdered in Oklahoma City.
Still, homicides in Chicago were the lowest since 1965. Modern lows also were posted in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. The latter had a 20 percent drop in murders, raising the question of whether that city's stop-and-frisk policy — which its new mayor vows to end — has had a positive effect.
Public policies can reduce homicides, according to the politicians who promote such policies. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says city-run summer and after-school youth programs were integral to reducing homicides. Anti-gang initiatives and “smart” policing (analyzing crime data and positioning officers where and when most needed) also help.
An overlooked factor is an improvement in the emergency response to shootings. This means more victims stay alive today than was true in the mid-1960s, when the murder rate peaked in many larger cities.
Oklahoma City leaders can't be satisfied with a 20 percent drop in murders. Police staffing and funding must keep up with population growth and a seemingly more violence-prone society.