Crime Prevention

Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise

Richard Rosenfeld
Founders Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Missouri – St. Louis

Key Findings

  • The 2015 homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented.
  • There were ten cities that contributed the largest number of homicides to the total increase in 2015.
  • The increases in these ten cities constituted 66.7 percent of the total increase in the 56-city sample.


The debate over the size, scope and causes of the homicide increase in 2015 has been largely free of systematic evidence. This paper documents the scale of the homicide increase for a sample of 56 large U.S. cities. It then examines three plausible explanations of the homicide rise: an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin epidemic, reductions in incarceration resulting in a growing number of released prisoners in the nation’s cities, and a “Ferguson effect” resulting from widely publicized incidents of police use of deadly force against minority citizens. The paper concludes with a call for the more frequent and timely release of crime information to address crime problems as they arise.

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