Where Murder Is Falling, and Rising

(Photo: Wonderlane)

Encouraging news via the Associated Press:

For the first time in almost half a century, homicide has fallen off the list of the nation’s top 15 causes of death.

In Mexico, meanwhile, the murder trend continues to move in the opposite direction:

During the first nine months of 2011, some 12,903 people were killed in drug-related violence—11% more than the killings during the same period in 2010, according to a database released by the Attorney General’s Office.

During [President Felipe] Calderón‘s five-year term so far, the official death toll stands at 47,515, although that figure does not include the toll from the past three months.

If the 11% increase in drug-related killings held during the last three months of 2011, that means some 16,953 people died during the whole of 2011—a staggering toll that is far higher than the rate of combat-related deaths in Afghanistan. Some 15,273 people died in drug-related violence in 2010, according to government figures.

One note worth considering: if U.S. homicide numbers included Puerto Rico, things wouldn’t look quite so rosy. Puerto Rico is experiencing a terrible murder wave, fueled by the island’s increasing importance as a drug-trafficking station. NationMaster has 2004 murder data that shows Puerto Rico with a rate of 20.3 per 100,000 compared to the U.S. rate of 5.9. Since then, the U.S. rate has ticked down while P.R. murders have jumped, this year hitting an all-time high

Mich delrio

The fact that a huge number of guns are actually leaving the U.S. And entering Mexico could have some say in these numbers.


Mich thats an absurd explanation. This US exports guns to most every country in the world.

As Larry the Cable guy puts it "thats like blaming your pencil for your spelling mistakes."


And if guns weren't available cheaply from the US, it would be no problem to make them locally, especially for an industry that apparently capable of building its own submarines.

Mike B

Question is how do you reduce the demand for smuggling without getting the sort of drug addled population that hobbled China in the 19th Century? Since just saying no doesn't work, can legal soft drugs be a good substitute for harder drugs?


I live in Jamaica and am quite ashamed to say that our muder rate in 2011 was approximately 50 per 100,000. Jamaica experienced about 1500 murders in 2010 (the vast majority in urban areas far removed from the towns and area where most tourists visit) mostly in Kingston. The country has a population of 2,7 - 3.0 million (we are awaiting the results of the 2010 census). It is generally accepted that like Puerto Rico the main source of the high murder rate is the constinuous turf wars among rival gangs trying to control the trans-shipment of guns, cocaine and humans.


I was thinking about both murder and crime rates recently, and one thing people rarely discuss when talking about falling murder rates are two things not related to crime or policing at all.

The first is connectivity and the second is medical advances. I have no evidence, but I presume that the fact people have cell phones with them all the time reduces the average response time when responding to injuries that would hurt someone. By reducing that response time, it makes it possible to save lives, and when a life is saved there will obviously be no murder.

Similarly, medical advances in treating things like knife / gun wounds. Doctors being better able to deal with these types of injuries when they present themselves can keep victims of violence alive, and by doing so, it would decrease the murder rate.

Unless the murder statistic involves all attempted murder / assault w/ a deadly weapon, which I kind of doubt it does.

Still, these types of tech advances can impact "murder" because if there is no death there can be no murder charge or investigation, yet they seem to be rarely discussed when thinking about falling murder rates.



I would not expect this to have a big effect on the murder rate. On the rates of voluntary & involuntary manslaughter, yes, but I expect that the person who sets out to commit a deliberate murder will generally do so in a way which ensures that the victim can't be treated.


"There are four kinds of Homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy."
~ Ambrose Bierce

Steve Roth

Out of curiosity I just searched freakonomics to see if you guys had talked about the effects of lead exposure on the crime rate. Rick Nevin's work is incredibly important (ricknevin.com). I'm amazed to find not a single mention.

And no: lead and roe v wade are not mutually exclusive explanations.

You guys, more than anyone else, should really get on this. Any way to tease out the relative contributions of the two via multiple regression or the like?

This is a big deal. Would like to see you guys spreading the word.

Thanks for listening,