Homicides and other violent crimes are increasing in major cities across the country, leaving law enforcement officials scratching their heads as to the cause ‒ and how to address the rise in crime and its underlying problems.
Police forces around the country are struggling to deal with a recent surge in violence. Four of the nation’s largest cities ‒ New York; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ‒ saw spikes in homicides through mid-July when compared to the same time period in 2014.
Homicides in 35 big cities are up 19 percent this year on average, and non-fatal shootings are up 62 percent, according to a police association survey. When it comes to year-to-date homicides, Washington, DC has seen a 23 percent increase, while Baltimore, Maryland has seen a 57.6 percent increase. Los Angeles, California has seen a 20.2 percent increase in violent crimes through the beginning of August, while New York City saw a 20 percent spike in its murder rate over the first two months of the year.
On August 3, the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) hosted a summit of police chiefs from DC, Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri, as well as criminal justice professors, attorneys and others to discuss the increase in shootings in their cities and to brainstorm possible solutions to the uptick in crime.
“We had this meeting as an urgent summit because we felt a sense of urgency because people are dying,” DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a news conference after the summit. “We have not seen what we’re seeing right now in decades.”
As of Sunday, DC’s homicide total had reached 93 ‒ just 12 shy of the city’s homicides for all of 2014, according to police figures. It’s also a 23 percent increase over the same time period ‒ January to mid-August ‒ in 2014, the Washington Post reported.
A study by the Urban Institute found that, even with the recent spike in violence, the District’s crime levels remain at historic lows. It tracked homicides over the past 15 years, and found they have shifted away from rapidly developing and gentrifying neighborhoods.
I think people feel like these crews and these neighborhood beefs never really left,” DC Council Member Charles Allen told the Post. “They still exist, and this problem is certainly not unique to one neighborhood. A block from my house, we had guys hanging out car windows pumping bullets into a guy. It’s something we’re experiencing this summer.”
Yet some of those areas, such as Petworth, which has seen a 34 percent increase in crimes with guns this year, and Columbia Heights, with a 9 percent increase, are not comforted by the statistics.
“We knew it was an area in transition,” Adrian Washington, who runs the Neighborhood Development Co., located just north of Petworth, told the Post. “But over the last few months, we saw things getting worse and worse. More people drunk or high, hanging out all day, some looking like they were selling drugs.”
The District’s police are baffled by the spike, which includes a brazen homicide occurring just before 5:00 p.m. on Saturday. A 24-year-old former Capitol Hill intern was shot and killed a mere four blocks from where the Metropolitan Police Department had set up a special, around-the-clock post where three people were shot and injured last Tuesday. A woman was killed at a barbeque in the same location after a bullet was fired into a crowd on Memorial Day. The nation’s capital is fighting an epidemic of synthetic marijuana use, and instituted harsh new penalties in July for stores caught selling the man-made drugs.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in early July, saying he was too divisive and his presence too damaging in the wake of riots and protests over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody in April. As tension remained even after the six officers involved with Gray’s arrest were themselves taken into custody and charged with varying counts, the city’s homicide rate began spiraling out of control and other violent crimes started to spike as well.
Since the start of the year, there have been 208 murders in Baltimore, compared to 211 for all of 2014, according to the Baltimore Sun. Over Memorial Day weekend, 28 people were shot ‒ nine of whom died ‒ making May the city’s most violent month since 1999. Robberies spiked in July, with 2,411 street, commercial and residential robberies and carjackings occurring in Baltimore between the start of January and the end of July, the Sun reported. With 400 more robberies and carjackings than in the comparable period last year, the city is seeing at least a five-year high in those crimes.