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Are Homicide Rises, Falls Due To A 'Natural' Cycle Of Violent Crime?

Homicide totals are falling across the U.S. And that shift could affect the role crime — a top voter concern — plays as an issue in November’s election. 

The phenomenon lacks a clear explanation.

Some experts homicide peaks come and go in cycles, some cite policing improvements after the COVID-19 pandemic, and others attribute the change to the evolving national conversation about how to handle crime, reports The Hill.

Experts aren’t agreed on why the number of homicides has fallen so far, so fast.

Boston saw the sharpest decline from 2023 to 2024, 82 percent. In Philadelphia, homicides dropped by 37 percent; in Dallas, 27 percent; and in Chicago, 6 percent, according to estimates from city police department reports compiled by AH Datalytics.

Jeffrey Fagan, professor of law and epidemiology at Columbia University, attributes the improvements to a typical crime cycle.

He says, “I think there’s something natural in this cyclical nature of homicide and violence. One of the distinguishing features of what happened in the most recent period was that it had to do with murder more so than with other violent crimes. Other violent crimes rose but not nearly to the same extent as murder. It's likely to happen again, we just don’t understand the circumstances when these externalities will create the social and economic conditions for homicide rates to arise again.”

Fagan cited other cycles, like in the 1960s when homicides started rising and peaked by 1972, then fell sharply. And in the late 1970s, when they took off again to peak in 1981 and then crash. And in the late 1980s, homicide rates skyrocketed and peaked in 1991 before crashing again.

“So, what’s the common denominator other than the fact that there’s this recurring cycle of peaks, crashes, peaks, crashes, peaks, crashes? There’s something natural about these episodes in that they follow an epidemic pattern. Any epidemiologist will tell you that it looks like any other disease epidemic,” he said.

Alex Piquero, former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, outlined the factors he argues caused the spike in homicides: Community prevention programs were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, and law enforcement pulled back after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and because of pandemic staffing issues.

Piquero, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Miami, said those conditions have been reset. “Their staffing levels are going up, police are around the community more, they’re targeting violent places and violent people using appropriate statistical methodology.”

Andrea Headley, a criminal justice policy expert at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, argued that investments from the federal government, whether from the bipartisan gun safety act or the American Rescue Plan, have made an impact.

“We see funding for law enforcement that happened,” Headley said. “We see, which I think probably is arguably more important, is the funding and the support structures for community violence interventions, wraparound social support services, but also the investments in job programs and mentoring. Things that we know typically are correlates of violent crime. And, kind of this targeted approach of taking money from the federal level and investing it in local communities.”


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