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Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld Dies; Crime Forecasting Specialist

Updated: Apr 29

Richard Rosenfeld, one of the most prominent U.S. criminologists, died Monday of cancer at 75. Rosenfeld was a professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis and Founding Chair of the Crime Trends Working Group at the think tank Council on Criminal Justice. Rosenfeld was co-author with Ernesto Lopez of an ongoing series of crime trends reports that began early in the pandemic and became a resource for policymakers and the news media. Early in his career, Rosenfeld was the author, with Steven Messner, of "Crime and the American Dream," an analysis of the role of culture in the nation's high crime rate. Rosenfeld also was widely quoted about the relationship between the crime rate and the economy.

"It was one of his deepest commitments as a part of his academic life to serve the advancement of public knowledge about crime and to be as helpful with public safety in as many ways as possible," his wife of 23 years, criminologist Janet Lauritsen, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It’s a huge loss for public understanding of crime because of his willingness and capacity to be such a clear communicator."

Rosenfeld became interested in the field of forecasting crime rates, a topic widely shunned by specialists after a few criminologists made what Rosenfeld termed "wildly inaccurate predictions" in the early 1990s that record-breaking crime increases would continue. In fact, crime rates steadily declined for more than a decade. Rosenfeld's wife is an expert on crime statistics. In November, Rosenfeld and Lauritsen wrote a Washington Post article headlined "Did Violent Crime Go Up Or Down Last Year? Yes, It Did." The piece discussed the discrepancy between an FBI compilation that said reported violent crime dropped last year and the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, which reported a 75% increase in the violent crime rate. The conflicting reports leave "leaves the public and policymakers in the dark," they wrote.

In September, Rosenfeld published with James Austin a report for the Harry Guggenheim Foundation that forecast crime rates through next year and assessed their relation to the prison population. The authors forecast modest increases in violent crime and then a flattening trend by 2025 and a continuation of the longstanding decline in property crime. They used their forecasting models to project the effect of decreasing the declining U.S. rate of imprisonment by an additional 20%. They concluded that such a policy decision would not lead to significantly higher crime rates. 

Rosenfeld was also a president of the American Society of Criminology, and had been named by the education ranking organization Academic Influence as one of the top five influential criminologists in the world.

According to an article on the UMSL website, Rosenfeld worked with St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to examine the relationship between crime and socioeconomic conditions in certain geographic locations with higher rates of violent crime. Following the killing of Michael Brown and other high profile killings by police, he worked to examine subsequent surges in violent crime and the so-called "Ferguson Effect."

More recently, Rosenfeld was focused on violent crime amid the COVID-19 pandemic and following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. That work helped inform a White House strategy to combat gun violence that was announced in 2021.

He has received many honors by colleagues throughout his career. In 2016 he was named a Fulbright Scholar, and received the Edwin H. Sutherland Award from the American Society of Criminology in 2017.

Rosenfeld discussed his career and work in this podcast recently posted by The Criminology Academy


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