Chicago's murder rate of 17.5 per 100,000 residents doesn't crack nation's top 10
St. Louis tops list of cities with highest murder rates, highest violent crime
A gorgeous, historic lakeside city known for its world-class attractions, cultural influence and brilliant exports – from deep-dish pizza and the world champion Cubbies to Chance the Rapper and Barack Obama – Chicago should be known for other things.
Too often, that’s not the case. Yet while Chicago’s violence is real and, at times, startling, there are many cities with more disturbing body counts.
Over and over, we hear it. It’s a premise of Ice Cube’s “Barbershop: The Next Cut” and Spike Lee’s “Chiraq.” Hometown son Kanye West, one of many Chi-town rappers to lament the city’s violence, has rhymed, “I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital.”
News outlets have handed Chicago unsavory titles like “America’s mass shooting capital,” and when the city recently went more than six days without a shooting death, local reporters felt it warranted a headline. Plenty of people were shot, mind you, just none fatally.
Even President Donald Trump has homed in on the violence whipping through the Windy City.
Statistics don’t lie, but…
It’s a product purely of numbers. Official FBI data from the latest year available says that Chicago had 478 murders in 2015. That’s tops in the country.
The 2016 tally maintained by the Chicago Tribune suggests the city is in no danger of losing this dubious distinction. The newspaper counted 785 murders in 2016, a spike of more than 64 percent.
Murder rates for midsized cities, 2015
- Birmingham, Ala. -- 37.2
- Jackson, Miss. -- 31.1
- Baton Rouge, La. -- 26.2
- Hartford, Conn. -- 25.7
- Salinas, Calif. -- 25.3
- West Palm Beach, Fla. -- 21
- San Bernardino, Calif. -- 20.3
- Richmond, Va. -- 19.5
- Kansas City, Kan. -- 18.6
- Dayton, Ohio -- 18.5
- Source: FBI
On their face, the numbers are enough to make folks cancel their vacations or business trips to the nation’s third largest city, but a deeper dive into the numbers shows fears over the city’s violence can be overblown when compared to cities much smaller.
Atlanta, Washington, Oakland, California, Memphis, Tennessee, and Kansas City, Missouri, for instance, all have higher violent crime rates. There are also numerous cities, including St. Louis and Detroit, with much higher rates of non-fatal shootings, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
As for homicide alone, Chicago has a murder rate more than quadruple the nation’s largest city, New York, and more than double the second largest, Los Angeles.
But there are 13 large cities – population 250,000 or more – with higher murder rates (murders per 100,000 people), and that doesn’t include a host of midsized cities with more murders per 100,000 residents.
Here’s a look at the top 5 major cities when it comes to murder rates, according to the 2015 FBI numbers:
Population: 317,095 Murders: 188 Murder rate: 59.3 Violent crime rate: 1,817.1
The Gateway to the West earned another nickname in 2015, murder capital. Raw numbers put St. Louis well behind Chicago’s 478 murders, but Chicago’s population is more than eight times that of St. Louis. In 2015, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Samuel Dotson blamed a 58% spike in murder on guns, the justice system and the tendency of young people to resort to violence in resolving disputes.
Population: 621,252 Murders: 344 Murder rate: 55.4 Violent crime rate: 1,535.9
Baltimore is no stranger to crime, but 2015 was a remarkable year even by Charm City standards. Following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, law enforcement officials reported that arrests plunged while murders surged. Like the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun keeps a running murder count, which shows, among other things, that the violence comes in waves. Consider this: There have been only 16 murders in the last 30 days, about one every other day, according to the site. But the last six months have hosted 165 homicides, almost one a day.
Population: 673,225 Murders: 295 Murder rate: 43.8 Violent crime rate: 1,759.6
The nation briefly turned its head to Detroit’s murder problem during one of 2015’s most sensational cases: a mother who was later convicted of torturing her two children, killing them and storing them in the freezer. But there were 293 other murders in the city that year. And while that may sound like a lot for a city with fewer than 700,000 people, the local news heralded it as the lowest body count since 1967. Its highest came a few years later, in 1974, when there were 714 murders in the city.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Population: 393,447 Murders: 164 Murder rate: 41.7 Violent crime rate: 949.6
It feels like New Orleans is often in the running for the murder city title. It probably hasn’t helped that the deaths of two former NFL players, Will Smith and Joe McKnight, served to keep the city in the headlines last year. The city saw its fair share of high-profile cases in 2015, when it recorded the fourth-highest murder rate among large U.S. cities – the alleged slaying of a policeman by a man who had been searched and placed in the back of a squad car and the arrest of real estate heir Robert Durst, who was not accused of murder in Louisiana, but in California.
Population: 600,400 Murders: 145 Murder rate: 24.2 Violent crime rate: 1,596.1
Milwaukee’s murder rate was especially troubling in 2015 because it represented a huge uptick from the 86 murders a year prior. It also represented only the second time since 2007 that the city had topped 100 murders. Like the newspapers in Chicago and Baltimore, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel keeps a running tab of homicides in the city. Faced with a spike of murders in 2015, Milwaukee residents told the paper they had trouble pinning down the reasons for the surge, aside from the usual suspects of poverty, unemployment, education, ineffective courts, policing and easy access to guns.
** Washington (24.1), Kansas City, Missouri (23), Cincinnati, Ohio (22.1), Memphis, Tennessee (20.5), Oakland, California (20.3), Atlanta (20.2), Pittsburgh (18.6) and Philadelphia (17.9) also beat Chicago’s 2015 murder rate of 17.5.