ABC News has obtained exclusive data that shows the murder and robbery surge that spiked last year has continued in 2006, and in many communities across the country, crime has gotten worse. The Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank that serves many of the nation's police departments, examined the murder and robbery stats in 53 U.S. cities for the first six months of this year.
There is a lot more behind the crime spike than mere numbers. To learn more about what's driving the startling statistics, watch World News With Charles Gibson tonight at 6:30 ET.
Murder was up in 26 of 53 cities — and robberies rose in 43 of 53 jurisdictions. For all jurisdictions reporting to the group, murder was up 4 percent. For the overall survey, robberies were up 9.7 percent. The report, titled "A Gathering Storm: Violent Crime in America," is scheduled for release this coming Sunday at a conference of roughly 100 police chiefs in Boston.
To understand why police around the country have grown so alarmed, one needs to look closer at individual cities, which have witnessed an increase in the level of violence not seen in more than a decade.
For many cities, the increase in violence has been dramatic. In Boston, murder was up a whopping 27.5 percent in the first six months of this year, and that follows a whopping 19.6 percent jump in 2005. In Memphis, murder increased 27 percent in 2005 and 43 percent in 2006. Police say the crime wave has been triggered by a lethal combination of increased gang activity, violent offenders returning from prison and kids who have easy access to guns.
In Cincinnati, murder was up 25 percent in 2005 and was still up significantly — 19 percent the first six months of 2006, Vincent DeMasi, assistant chief of the Cincinnati Police Department, told ABC News in an interview. "What we are experiencing is primarily drugs, again, individuals coming into the community that are involved primarily in drug trafficking, buying or selling drugs, and they are involved in a world ... that has no boundaries, no rules and violence prevails," he said.
The increase in violence in the first half of 2006 reveals a steep rise in crime since last year. Last month the FBI reported that in 2005 the violent crime rate increased 2.3 percent. According to FBI data from police agencies nationwide, murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased 3.4 percent in 2005, robbery increased 3.9 percent and aggravated assault increased 1.8 percent from the 2004 figures.
What is worrying so far in 2006 is that even communities with relatively low crime, like Orlando, Fla., have seen dramatic increases. There were more murders in the first six months of 2006, 40 so far, than the city ever witnessed in a calendar year. The six-month murder stats for Orlando are up 328 percent compared with last year. More than half of these murders are drug related, according to the Orlando Police Department.
Robbery increases for the first six months of this year were even more stunning across the board: Rochester, N.Y., up 47 percent; suburban Montgomery County, Md., up 37 percent; Minneapolis up 36.8 percent; Milwaukee robbery, up 36 percent; Norfolk, Va., up 27 percent. This translates into thousands more people being robbed, often at gunpoint.
No doubt, this poses enormous challenges for law enforcement officials, who need to come up with new strategies to combat a problem that affects entire communities. "We just can't arrest our way out of this. This is a very complex issue and it's going to require an enormous amount of resources," said DeMasi.
Top federal officials have recently said they are aware of the increases. At a briefing with reporters, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said, "The information we're getting about what is happening in '06 compels us to be all the more vigilant about what we're doing and to maintain our close communication with state and local law enforcement so we understand what they're seeing and what they're experiencing and that we can be as responsive to that as possible."