When the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2012 back in September of this year, every blogger and general assignment reporter dutifully looked up which city had the most murders, then promptly crowned it the "murder capital" of America. Last year's leader in homicides was Chicago, with 500. Shortly after the report came out, I wrote a critique of the whole concept of a murder capital. It's a reductionist way to look at any city's battle with violent crime, and the fact that the rate isn't pegged to population makes it almost meaningless. (Chicago may have had the most homicides in 2012, but Flint, Michigan, had the most per capita.)
But my favorite critique of bestowing the title "murder capital" is that it's almost always obsolete by the time it's doled out. In September 2013, Chicago was named the most murderous city in the U.S. based on a data collection period that ended in Dec. 2012. Did something happen to the murder rate in the intervening eight months? Why, yes. And now that we're just a few weeks away from the end of 2013, NBC Chicago reports that the city is on track to have its lowest homicide rate since 1965:
Chicago closed out the first 11 months of 2013 with 380 murders, a drop from 474 in the same period of 2012, according to police data. That's the fewest for any year in Chicago since 1965, according to Adam Collins, the Chicago Police Department Director of News Affairs.
And it's not just murders that are down. Crime overall is down 15 percent compared to this time last year, and there have been 579 fewer shootings. Chicago still has a serious violent crime problem, and may well still end up with the highest volume of homicides of any U.S. city. But the latter point is only good for salacious headlines.
Top image: A Chicago police officer. REUTERS/Jim Young