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Justice Department Report: Homicide Rate at Lowest Level Since 1963

The number of homicides in the United States fell to a 42-year low in 2011, resulting in declines in the murder rate for males and females of all races, according to a December 2013 report released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicides known to law enforcement agencies declined for the fifth straight year and the murder rate dropped to the lowest level since the 1960s.

“The U.S. homicide rate declined by nearly half (49%), from 9.3 homicides per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1992 to 4.7 in 2011, falling to the lowest level since 1963,” the report found.

The data, which tracked homicides known to law enforcement agencies nationwide as of yearend 2011, found that the number of murders fell by half from 1992 to 2011 for both men (50%) and women (49%), although the report noted that over a 10-year period the homicide rate for men was greater than that for women, and greater for whites than blacks.

“From 2002 to 2011, the average homicide rate for males was 3.6 times higher than the rate for females,” the report said. “The average homicide rate for blacks was 6.3 times higher than the rate for whites.”

The largest decline in homicides during that same decade – 33% – occurred for persons identified as members of other races, including American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

The report’s authors pointed out that information on Hispanic or Latino homicide victims was not included in the report due to missing data in the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) used to compile the statistics, noting, “on average from 1992 to 2011, more than 98% of homicide victims for whom data were reported to the SHR were missing information on ethnicity. Due to the lack of reporting of ethnicity by submitting law enforcement agencies, homicide rates by Hispanic or Latino origin were not calculated.”

According to the report, more people were killed while in their late teens and early 20s, though homicides stretched across all age groups.

“In 2011, age 30 was the median age of homicide victims (i.e., half of all murder victims were age 30 or younger and half were age 30 or older),” the report said. “From 2002 to 2011, young adults ages 18 to 24 had the highest homicide rate of any age group. Young adults also experienced the largest homicide rate decline (down 22%), from 15.2 per 100,000 in 2002 to 11.9 in 2011.”

The Justice Department statistics revealed striking differences over the same ten-year period in the ages of murder victims when comparing white and black males and white and black females, but in all cases blacks were killed at higher rates than whites. For example, more than twice as many black male children aged one or less were murdered compared to white male children.

“The highest murder rate for black males was nearly 9 times higher than the highest rate for white males,” the report stated.

Among women, the report found that the highest murder rate documented from 2002 to 2011 was among white female infants aged one or less; even white women in their 20s were homicide victims less frequently. And while the rate for black girls aged one or less was more than twice that for white female children, the number of black women killed in their 20s occurred at a greater rate.

“Among white females, the homicide rate was highest during the first year of life,” according to the report. “However, among black females, the homicide rate peaked at age 22 (11.8 homicides per 100,000 black females), a level slightly above the rate for black females younger than age 1.”

The report also documented the type of weapons used to commit homicides, finding declines in the use of all weapons, although handguns remained the most popular type of firearm used to commit murder.

“From 1992 to 2011, handguns were used in an average of 57% of male homicides and in 35% of female homicides. An additional 16% of male homicide victims and 13% of female homicide victims were killed with some other type of firearm (e.g., rifles, shotguns, and firearms of unknown type),” the report said.

The data also revealed a drop in the number of other types of weapons used to commit murders from 1992 to 2011: “During this 20-year period, the rate of murder involving a knife or blunt object declined by 55%, and the rate of murder involving a personal weapon (including fists or feet and pushing or strangling the victim) decreased by 47%. The rate of homicide involving other non-personal weapons (e.g., poison, explosives, fire, narcotics, and unknown weapons) declined by 34%.”

Additionally, the report examined the number of homicides according to population centers, with the greatest decline cited in large cities and the smallest in rural areas.

“The largest declines occurred from 1992 to 2002,” the report found. “During this period, the homicide rate declined by half (down 49%) in the largest urban areas with 500,000 or more residents and decreased by about a third both in urban areas with 100,000 to 499,999 residents (down 37%) and in urban areas with 99,999 or fewer residents (down 31%). The homicide rate in suburban areas declined by 42%, and in rural areas by 27%.”

In addition, homicides in large urban areas were more frequently committed with a handgun than in smaller cities or rural areas.

“Firearm homicides were more likely to involve a handgun if the murder occurred in a large city with 1 million or more residents (91%) than other urban areas, regardless of the sex of the victim,” the report noted. “Similarly, nearly half (47%) of firearm homicides that occurred in rural areas involved a firearm other than a handgun, such as a rifle, shotgun, or other unspecified firearm, compared to about a quarter (24%) of firearm homicides in urban areas and about a third (31%) of firearm homicides in suburban areas.”

Finally, the report found that the overwhelming number of homicides involved the killing of only one victim – and in two-thirds of those cases a gun was used.

“From 2002 to 2011, the majority (95%) of homicide incidents involved the killing of a single victim,” the report stated. “During the same period, about 4% of homicide incidents involved two victims, 0.6% involved three victims, and 0.2% involved four or more victims. In 2011, 66% of homicides with a single victim involved a firearm, compared to 79% of homicide incidents with multiple victims.”

According to the most recent FBI statistics, released in September 2015, there were 13,472 murders and non-negligent manslaughter cases known to law enforcement authorities nationwide during 2014, reflecting a rate of 4.5 per 100,000 population and a 2% decline from the previous year.


Sources: “Homicide in the U.S. Known to Law Enforcement, 2011,” by Erica L. Smith and Alexia Cooper, Ph.D., No. NCJ 243035; U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics (December 2013);

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