Anatomy of the homicide rise.

Rosenfeld, R., & Fox, J.A. (2019).
Homicide Studies, 23(3), 202 – 224.
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After declining for over two decades, homicides in the United States rose sharply in 2015 and 2016. In this article, researchers dissect the homicide rise by characteristics of the victims, offenders, and incidents and devote special attention to the similarities and differences in homicide growth by race.

Expanded Abstract: 

After declining for over two decades, homicides in the United States rose sharply in 2015 and 2016. Specifically, it rose 11.4% in 2015 and by another 8.2% the following year. The homicide rate among non-Hispanic Blacks rose by 24%, by 15% among non-Hispanic Whites, and by 17% among Hispanics. These increases were comparatively large, if not wholly unprecedented. In total, the percentage increase in the U.S. homicide rate in 2015 was greater than at any time since the late 1960s (Rosenfeld et al., 2017). It is well known that homicides are predominantly intraracial. From 2000 through 2016, 81% of White homicide victims were killed by White assailants, and 90% of Black victims by Black offenders. These figures are heavily influenced by the race similarity in intimate partner homicide and family-involved killings. Still, over 80% of acquaintance homicides and three quarters of stranger-perpetrated killings are intraracial (Fox et al., 2018). The data analysis also found increases for both males and females, although the surge was much greater for males. Specifically, the number of male victims increased by 23.5% over the 2-year time frame, compared with 15.1% for females. Whereas three quarters of homicide victims are male, the gender ratio is especially imbalanced among perpetrators (90% are male.

The authors’ analysis also revealed that in 2014, 68.1% of all homicides resulted from gunfire. By 2016, however, the percentage of homicides involving a firearm reached 73.0%, an historic high mark. In another notable finding, drug-related homicides fueled the overall growth in homicide in rural areas. Whereas the overall increase in rural homicides was 26.7% between 2014 and 2016, drug-relating killings in rural areas rose by 141.8% during this period.

The results indicate that the upturn was demographically and geographically pervasive and encompassed multiple event circumstances. Regardless of whether the 2014 to 2016 homicide spike was a short-run aberration in the long-term crime drop or augurs an extended increase in lethal violence, it should be explained. In the article, these authors offer some general directions for explanatory research on the homicide rise.