A fundamental belief that researchers at the Center for Homicide Research operate under is that homicide is preventable. The rate and frequency of homicide has been high for so long in the United States that many people have come to accept killing as a fact of daily life. But it hasn’t always been so, and homicide is finally down across the country. The question is why – what caused this reduction. Research can help to answer this question.
Homicide is down from 20-30% in major cities across the United States, with only a few exceptions where large cities saw a slight increase. To better understand this drop, we need to consider specific types of homicide. For instance, some kinds of homicide are down more than others. From 2008 to 2009 in Minnesota, criminal homicides were reduced from 112 to 72 representing a 35.7% drop. During this same time, intimate-partner homicides dropped from 20.2% to 16.7%, a significantly lesser drop.
While homicide was dropping nearly everywhere, some reduction strategies may have promoted even greater drops than most. Minneapolis experienced a 50% drop by the end of 2009. Many large cities saw a similar though lesser reduction. Officials have credited many of their favorite programs for creating this success, but a reduction occurred on a national basis and even in regions where few mitigation strategies were in effect. One explanation is that society has reached a tipping point in which enough individuals and groups are working together to solve the problem that it is now having an impact. The synergy of society acting together is finally lowering the homicide rate.
Most honest criminologists will tell you that we just don’t know what is causing this change. Homicide is a complex syndrome – one common end-result of a myriad of different human interactions. For instance, infanticide is very different than a death from a bank robbery, though both ended in homicide. A bar room altercation type homicide is very different than a serial sexual homicide. Because there are so many types, it is difficult to determine what can be done to prevent them. Homicide is the culmination of many types of criminal events.
One new theory has been developed by a lone researcher with an unlikely background. A historian from Ohio State University, Randolph Roth proposes that homicide rates are linked to people’s sense of trust in their leaders and hope for the future. Lack of feeling empowered can lead people to hopelessness and a sense of isolation. Considering that 50% of all homicide victims are African-American, and that the U.S. has elected our first black president in our country’s history, Roth’s theory begins to sound promising. Though, depending on President Obama’s next year in office, that hope could recede, leading once again to an increased rate of killing if citizens’ expectations are not fulfilled. Roth’s theory has tremendous implications for homicide prevention as we ponder it over the coming months.
To read a more complete article about Dr. Roth’s theory and his new book titled “American Homicide,” click here.