The Washington Times and The Washington Examiner cover our research on the concentration of murders in the United States

Jan 19, 2023 | Media Coverage

From The Washington Times.

Homicide rates have spiked, but most of America has remained untouched.

Only a tiny fraction of U.S. counties account for nearly all of the country’s homicides, according to research released Tuesday that showed a striking concentration where killings take place.

The worst 31 counties — generally urban jurisdictions — have about a fifth of the country’s population but accounted for 42% of the country’s homicides in 2020, said John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, which conducted the study.

The worst 5% of counties accounted for 73% of homicides. That ticked up slightly from 69% in 2014 and 70% in 2016.

Meanwhile, 52% of counties recorded no homicides in 2020, and another 16% recorded only a single killing.

“Murders are a problem in a very small percentage of the counties in the United States,” Mr. Lott told The Washington Times.

Even in those higher-homicide counties, the crime is still concentrated, he said.

Mr. Lott crunched the data for Los Angeles County and found that 10% of the county’s ZIP codes accounted for 41% of the homicides. Another 10% accounted for 26% more.

“Murder isn’t a nationwide problem. It’s a problem in a small set of urban areas, and even in those counties murders are concentrated in small areas inside them, and any solution must reduce those murders,” he wrote in his report.

Mr. Lott relied on FBI data for his study, using the bureau’s Supplementary Homicide Report. For states that don’t report data to the FBI or where the data is believed to be a dramatic undercount, he relied on public uniform crime reports.

Cook County in Illinois — home to Chicago — led the country with 775 reported homicides in 2020. It was followed by Los Angeles County at 691, Houston home Harris County in Texas at 537, Philadelphia at 495 and New York’s five boroughs at 465.

Mr. Lott’s statistics show those five jurisdictions alone combined for about 15% of the year’s homicides.

They also generally had authorities who pursued less stringent approaches to crime. Mr. Lott said the correlation with the data is tough to avoid.

“It’s primarily in those heavily urban areas where you’re having the most lax approaches to crime on average, and that’s where we’re seeing the biggest increases,” he told The Times. “That’s why we’re seeing their share of murders and other violent crimes increased.”

Mr. Lott’s findings could explain one of the quirks in public polling in the run-up to the midterm congressional elections last year.

Surveys showed that voters placed violent crime high on their lists of concerns, though the same surveys often found that respondents didn’t fear for their own safety.

Criminologists have long identified higher crime rates in urban areas, but they say the matter is more complicated than mere population.

Some analysts point to blighted neighborhoods, high levels of truancy and other measures of social disunity as factors. Others point to lower arrest rates.

The year 2020 was striking for its increase in homicides and for some other pressure points, including the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked waves of unrest and attempts to curtail policing.

The mayhem continued into 2021, when some major cities reported record-high homicide counts.

The latest data suggests that homicide rates cooled off in 2022, though violent crime may still have ticked up.

Mr. Lott pointed to an inverse correlation in his study between counties with high homicide totals and gun ownership.

He said he doesn’t put too much weight on that point but added that it does serve as a challenge to the kinds of solutions Democrats are eyeing.

“President Biden and Democrats want to talk about violent crime as a gun problem. Over 92% of violent crime has nothing to do with guns,” Mr. Lott said. “The way you reduce violent crime or gun crime is the same way: You have to make it risky to go and commit the crime.”

Stephen Dinan, “Bad neighborhoods: 1% of counties responsible for 42% of America’s murders,” Washington Times, January 17, 2023.

From The Washington Examiner.

Murders occur overwhelmingly in dense urban areas, many with tough anti-gun restrictions, and far less in suburban and rural areas where firearm ownership is more common, according to a national study of killings.

“This research shows that murders in the U.S. are highly concentrated in tiny areas in the U.S. and that they are becoming even more concentrated in recent years,” said the report from John R. Lott’s Crime Prevention Research Center.

The new report, shared with Secrets, showed that big cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., are murder centers and that even in those cities, the areas where killings occur are growing more concentrated.

Lott’s report is all numbers and little editorial. It describes a nation that is seen on TV every night: shootings are common in cities.

“The worst 1% of counties (the worst 31 counties) have 21% of the population and 42% of the murders. The worst 2% of counties (62 counties) contain 31% of the population and 56% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 73% of murders. But even within those counties, the murders are very heavily concentrated in small areas,” he wrote of the 2020 numbers.

Comparing years, he said that the concentration of murder in tiny areas of cities and counties has surged since 2010.

The murder map in the report looks like the map of the concentration of Democratic voters in the nation.

His top 10 list of murder areas included Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, New York City, Detroit, Baltimore, Dallas, Miami, and Washington.

“Murder isn’t a nationwide problem,” Lott’s study said. “It’s a problem in a small set of urban areas and even in those counties murders are concentrated in small areas inside them, and any solution must reduce those murders,” it added.

Lott’s crime center often writes about gun use and crime, and he included a note that challenges conventional thinking that the surge in legal gun ownership has led to more killings.

“According to a 2021 PEW Research Center survey, the household gun ownership rate in rural areas was 79% higher than in urban areas. Suburban households are 37.9% more likely to own guns than urban households. Despite lower gun ownership, urban areas experience much higher murder rates. One should not put much weight on this purely ‘cross-sectional’ evidence over one point in time, and many factors determine murder rates. However, it is still interesting to note that so much of the country has both very high gun ownership rates and zero murders,” he said.

Paul Bedard, “Murders up in urban areas, not gun-friendly counties,” Washington Examiner, January 17, 2023.