America’s Murder Inequality Hot Spots

Here’s a thought. Maybe we’ve been going about trying to reduce the rising murder rate in this country the wrong way. Maybe, instead of taking an aerial view of the problem we should have been looking at things from down at the street-level. Analyzing crime reports neighborhood by neighborhood to specifically target the simmering pockets from which deadly violence erupts.

The Guardian Newspaper has published a major piece of investigative journalism that does just that. A team of reporters charted the location of each of America’s more than 13,000 gun homicides in 2015 (the latest available figures). They concluded that half of all gun murders occurred in just 127 American cities. And then they drilled down to study each “census tract,” the specific areas within neighborhoods that had endured multiple gun related murders.

In other words, they laser-focused in on the places that incubate crime.

And if they were laid side by side, the Guardian reports, these worst-of-the-worst U.S. crime spots “would fit into an area just 42 miles wide by 42 miles long.” This is said to be the first time gun homicides have been so meticulously mapped down to the census tract level.

We’re constantly inundated with reports about crime ridden cities like Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee and St. Louis to name just a few. But it is clear from this geographic analysis that whole cities are not engulfed in violence, nor are whole neighborhoods. Rather, deadly crime is concentrated within a small slice of territory where a tiny part of the population acts in criminal ways and, thereby, infects the peace and security of everyone.

Two cases highlight the point. In pockets of Oakland, California, it was discovered that a group of about 1,200 criminals perpetrated most of the violence. In New Orleans, fewer than 700 people, less than 1% of the population, were responsible for more than half the murders.

This begs the question, why can’t law enforcement do more to target those individual career criminals, charge them with crimes and get them off the street? Gee, when the feds couldn’t get Al Capone for murder they got creative and, at least, charged him with tax evasion.  I’m betting if cops and prosecutors put their heads together more often there would be more of these unsavory characters successfully put behind bars.

David Weisburd, Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, suggests much more attention should be paid to today’s “micro-geographic hot spots.”  He writes often about the “criminology of place” and indicates if more attention was paid to these places the nation’s crime rate could be dramatically reduced.

Of course, none of this is new to professional criminologists or veteran law enforcement officers. But I have to wonder if politicians get it. You know, those elected officials who rail on about debatable, wide-ranging solutions to gun crimes and only seem to appear after yet another random mass shooting. These days our national conversation on crime seems only to revolve around officer-involved shootings and more gun control laws. There’s very little discussion about ways to control the thugs who use guns in the commission of a crime.

And, I also have to wonder why the FBI only collects gun murder information from the city level, not the micro-geographic neighborhood level as the Guardian took the time to do. Wouldn’t that give lawmakers a more clear-cut idea of where crime fighting money should be allocated?

Everyone has an opinion about what causes a violence infested part of town: poverty, lack of education, single parent families, unemployment, racial segregation or the availability of guns. Indeed, the crime hot spots identified by the Guardian’s ground breaking analysis revealed that the four-and-a-half million Americans who live in these crime scarred places endure all those things. But as the Guardian’s reporting revealed, “Even within high-poverty areas that struggle with many kinds of disadvantage, the majority of residents have nothing to do with gun violence.” Those citizens surely deserve to have a peaceful place to live.

There has been much said recently about income inequality. Seems to me the issue of murder inequality should be up for just as much discussion.

If we’re really serious about cutting the crime rate in this country the path seems clear.  First, focus on those 127 communities and reeling in the habitual criminals who make life so frightening and perilous for others. Second, let’s concentrate – really concentrate – on improving education, job opportunities and racial tensions for those who live in these beleaguered areas.

Our new president has talked tough on law and order issues. Now, let’s see if his stated support for law enforcement translates into real-life actions that can help create a safer environment for both cops and citizens.






  1. Diane Dimond on January 30, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Walter Rosett writes:

    I found your recent editorial “Crime-fighting” quite straight forward and common sense other than omitting one detail of importance. I do believe that current popular (or at least common) opinion would consider this racist and profiling which is not acceptable to many in power. Apparently their feeling is that profiling is far worse then crimes, including murder even though it would benefit the vast majority of those affected. Common sense and results be dammed when even a miniscule degree of loss of freedom is involved. Focusing crime prevention would likely involve policing minority areas and people specifically.

    Walter Rosett
    Albuquerque NM

  2. Diane Dimond on January 30, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Reader Mary K. Smith writes:

    Atta girl, Diane, I think you should be on Trump’s team.

  3. Diane Dimond on January 30, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Jerry Little writes:

    Interesting approach but it’s not new. This has proven to work in some areas but the system seemed to lack stamina. I like the idea of targeting specific violent criminals, but it can’t be at the expense of the rest of the criminals out there. This country also needs to be more decisive when it comes to the flaws in the criminal justice system. Simply put, if a criminal takes the life of a victim, that’s “forever” for the victim. The punishment for the criminal should be “forever.”

  4. Diane Dimond on January 30, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    ABQ Journal Reader Michael Escajeda writes:

    Last week a man was stabbed on the bus stop. This week a mile up the road, a man was shot. I’m pretty sure we need to focus on the entire community thoroughly becoming safer. This ain’t a game that one group wins and others lose, right? Why do the publics saftey never get addressed? Do our drug laws make the public safer?

  5. Diane Dimond on January 30, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Facebook Friend Donna R. Gore writes:

    So disconcerting to know that both of the places I call home are hot spots! I guess when I retire, I really won’t be able to retire. Too much work to do everywhere! LJ

  6. Diane Dimond on January 31, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    Nashua Telegraph Reader Jay E. Simkin from New Hampshire writes:

    Use of terms such as “gun murders”, “gun homicides”, and “gun crimes” subverts Ms. Diamond’s laudable goal: focusing on the tiny minority of US residents – violent, career criminals – who account for most murders and many other violent crimes.

    Ms. Diamond (sic) correctly urges us to focus on the murderious minority, who blight neighborhoods. These criminals – who make the law-abiding afraid to go out at night – are very costly. Most businesses avoid high-crime neighborhoods. That means fewer job opportunities. Many in criminal-blighted neighborhoods can’t afford cars, so must rely on public transport to get to work, if they’re close to a bus or subway stop. Those, who aren’t close, can’t easily find work and so are trapped in poverty.

    Imprisoning the murderous minority isn’t cheap. But the return on that investment – stronger economic growth in criminal-free neighborhoods – will be huge!!!

    Be advised that Ms. Diamond’s key premise – “the rising murder rate in this country” – is only technically correct. From 1980 until 2014, the US murder rate fell from 10.2 per 100,000 residents (Dept. of Justice, “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008”, p.2) to 4.4 per 100,000 residents but in 2015 rose to 4.9 per 100,000 residents (FBI, “Crime in the United States”, 2015. Table 1). The 2015 rise may, or may not, mark a long-term trend reversal. It is the case, though, that as the number of firearms in the US doubled, the murder rate halved (See US Dept. of Justice, “Firearms Commerce in the United States” issues of 2000 and 2016).

    Ms. Diamond’s key point, though, is sound. A tiny minority of US residents drive the incidence of homicide. We should focus on controlling these murderous miscreants – a few tens of thousands, at most – rather than trying to control the approximately 355,000,000 firearms owned by US residents (excluding the military).

    “Gun control” has always been mathematical nonsense: things super-abundant and easily concealed cannot be controlled. Even worse: the debate on “gun control” promoted homicide because the debate misdirected the debate away from the murderous minority.

  7. Diane Dimond on February 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Twitter pal vickie vertel@vvertel writes:

    @DiDimond That is so on point Diane!!

  8. Diane Dimond on February 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Twitter Pal bob_burtisBob Burtis@bob_burtis writes:

    @DiDimond Prior to 9/11 LE was making progress against gangs and drugs. The LE focus shifted to terrorism. Need education, jobs and oppty.

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