Data Points: How Chicago's crime rate and population change stack up against other cities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Data Points: How Chicago's crime rate and population change stack up against other cities

Flickr user Sean Munson (cc)

It’s not clear if there’s a connection between homicides and population growth in Chicago.

In our last installment of Data Points, we explored the relationship, if any, between homicides and population loss. This week, we’ve produced a couple of graphics comparing changes in population and homicide rates for Chicago and six cities—Birmingham, Detroit, Flint, New Orleans, Richmond and Washington, D.C.—that have held the unenviable distinction of being the nation’s “murder capital.”

Each year, that unofficial title is bestowed upon the major American city with the nation’s highest homicide rate. Chicago is usually ranked among the top 40 but has never come close to having the nation’s highest homicide rate.

As we noted last time in Data Points, it’s not clear if there’s a connection between homicides and population growth. While Chicago’s homicide rate has increased in the last couple of years—this year the rate is likely to be at its highest in 15 years—the city’s rate in 2015 was nearly 40 percent lower than it was in 1990. Despite that fact, Chicago’s population has declined slightly since 1990.

Washington, D.C. and Richmond are the only former murder capitals to have seen their population increase. Those cities have also seen dramatic declines in homicide rates over the past 25 years. In the past, the homicide rates for Washington, D.C. and Richmond were more than twice as high as Chicago’s, but their rates are now comparable to Windy City’s. Flint is the only city among this group to have seen its murder rate increase. That city also saw the second-highest decline in population. Only Detroit has lost a greater share of its population since 1990. Some have suggested that homicides and population growth are linked. Elevated homicide levels, they say, can discourage new residents and drive existing residents away.

In our next installment, we’ll take a spatial look at homicides in Chicago during the 1990s—when the city witnessed its highest homicide rates—and compare it with a spatial look at the dramatic population loss witnessed during the 2000s.

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