In 2015, the US experienced a 3.9% increase in violent crime nation-wide, and while national data isn’t yet available for all of 2016, the FBI’s mid-year report indicates that violent crime was up 5.3% from the first half of 2015. According to a New York Magazine from a late last year, "The murder rate in the United States rose by 10 percent last year, while the total number of murders increased by nearly 11 percent — the highest single-year increase since 1971."
In contrast, Cincinnati, who had a modern day high of 89 murders in 2006, had just 66 murders in 2016, a more than 25% decrease. In the nine-year period between 2007 and 2016, despite fluctuations, the city’s highest number of murders was 73, still a decrease of more than 17%.
Crime trends are complex things; increases, decreases, and stagnation are often the result of multiple factors both inside and outside the control of policy makers.
Policy decisions still make a difference though. At the same time many cities were withdrawing law enforcement from their most dangerous neighborhoods, Cincinnati was using a multi-agency approach that included and focused on law enforcement, to become more involved in those communities, and saw results.
To the extent there is a “single statistic” that can illuminate likely increases or decreases in homicides in a given city, it’s the homicide clearance rate – or, what percentage of homicides result in an arrest in the same year. While the national clearance rate was 61.5%, in 2015, the rate was 70% in Cincinnati.
What accounts for Cincinnati’s higher than average homicide clearance rate, and continued reduction in violent crime? The answer, according to a team of professors at the University of Cincinnati and The University of Texas at San Antonio is, at least in part, the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), which began in 2007.
CIRV is a focused deterrence policing strategy modeled in part after Boston’s "Operation Ceasefire." The program looks like this:
CIRV specifically, and focused deterrence models generally, operate on the assumption that most violent crime is committed by a small group of repeat offenders with gang or street group ties.
Research showed that only 0.3% of the city’s population were members of violent groups, but a review of homicides showed that those individuals were responsible for approximately 75% of the city’s homicides.
After identifying these individuals, efforts were made to communicate to them that that status-quo was changing, and resources made available to those who wanted to change their lifestyle. Additional efforts were made to reach at-risk youth to prevent future involvement.
Law enforcement then coordinated to create meaningful and predictable consequences for groups who engage in violence. This component of the strategy is referred to as pulling levers, as law enforcement attempts to pull every lever legally possible following a violent incident.
During the 30-month evaluation period, 17 groups were targeted for law enforcement action and enhanced penalties based on their involvement in homicides and gun violence. This culminated in 318 physical custody arrests of 223 offenders for various felony and misdemeanor charges (some were arrested multiple times), along with 17 individuals indicted on federal charges.
The above-mentioned study found that Group/Gang Member Involved homicides experienced a statistically significant decline of roughly 37.7% after 24 months and 58.6% after 42 months or a 41.4% reduction total after 3.5 years post-implementation.
Many cities, Louisville and Lexington among them, are grappling with increases in crime. Cincinnati’s CIRV program provides a worthwhile case study on strategies to improve public safety.