Friday, January 4, 2013

The Cautionary Instruction: Murder moves to the suburbs

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
January 4, 2013

Homicide totals across the country were a mixed bag in 2012. As totals fluctuated from city to city and year to year one thing is certain, the suburbs are no longer safe havens from violence and greater Pittsburgh is a prime example.

Murders in New York have dropped to their lowest level in over 40 years. Homicides are down 20 percent from last year alone.

There were 416 recorded homicides in 2012, compared with 515 for the same period in 2011. That is a striking decline from murder totals in the low-2,000s that were common in the early 1990s.

Although murder rates in urban areas are at an all-time low, some other major cities were not as fortunate as New York in 2012. Two of these cities I wrote about several months ago.

In Chicago there were more than 500 homicides in 2012, a 17 percent increase over 2011. In Detroit, 379 murders in 2012 a 10 percent increase over last year.

Baltimore was unable to match last year’s significant milestone of dropping below 200 homicides, but officials see reasons to remain optimistic that declines will resume. The city recorded 217 killings, 10 percent more than last year's 197, but still the second-lowest population-adjusted rate of killings since the late 1980s.

Houston averaged slightly more than four murders a week during 2012, inching up from 2011 when the total dropped to the lowest point since 1966. Police reported 216 murders for 2012 -- up from 198 in 2011.

When Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter took office in 2008, homicides dropped nearly a quarter and shootings by 15 percent. The flush of early success has been tempered by recent totals. The homicide count for 2012 was 337, up from 324 in 2011, the third straight year of increase.

Even though some cities have experienced a slight up-tick in homicides, the overall decline in homicides has been unprecedented.

Yet that decline has overshadowed the rise in homicide in the suburbs. Between 2001 and 2010, homicide fell by 16.7 percent in big cities, according to a federal Bureau of Justice Statistics study, examined by the Wall Street Journal. But homicides rose 16.9 percent in suburbs during the same period.

Today, suburban murders—from domestic violence to robberies gone bad to shooting rampages—make up about a quarter of all homicides nationwide, up from 20.7% in 2001.

The sharpest increases in violent crime are in the suburbs, including Pittsburgh. There were 96 homicides last year in Allegheny County. That is about an average year for the county, except killings are moving out of the city and into the suburbs.

Of those 96 homicides, 42 occurred in the city compared to 54 in suburban Allegheny County. According to law enforcement, it’s a sign that criminal elements are moving into untapped regions.

Criminologists and public officials seem to agree. They cite weaker and more resource-strapped law enforcement in the suburbs which attract criminals looking for easier places than relatively well-policed cities to commit crimes.

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