Vargas: Rising murder rates in largest cities in the U.S. should be a big concern to all of us


Across the country, murder rates in major cities are rising. In some cities, people are getting killed at levels not seen since the 1990s.

This week, Chicago reported its bloodiest month since 2000, with 51 people being murdered on the streets during the month of January.

With 344 murders last year, Baltimore saw its deadliest year ever. Cleveland saw the largest percentage jump in murders, with more than a 90 percent increase in murders from year to year.

According to a Washington Post article, in 2015 there was a 17.5 percent increase in murders in the 50 largest cities in the United States. That’s the largest increase in a quarter century.

Rising murder rates should be of concern to all of us. Murder, more than any other crime, is most likely to be reported. Because of that, it is also one of the clearest indicators of serious social dysfunction in our cities.

There are experts from both the academic community as well as law enforcement giving their two-cents worth trying to explain the sudden shifts.

In reality, the answers are complex and not due to any one factor.

Some will argue it’s easy access to guns. I beg to differ. Access to firearms has been a constant over decades.

What is changing is the propensity for people to use guns.

Murder is an indicator of serious problems in our society. It shows that at some point we have failed to address the issues that create an environment where violence is an accepted form of problem solving.

It’s also a given that for every murder, there were a number of shootings and violent assaults in which the victims didn’t die.

Due to the wonders of modern medicine, a lot of these homicide victims still are alive.

Then there’s the role fate plays. The errant gunshot that was fired by a passing vehicle was just someone’s lucky day. If not for luck, they would have been another stat on the murder chart.

When murder rates start rising, there is an expectation that law enforcement should fix the problem.

That’s just not reasonable.

Law enforcement shouldn’t be blamed when murder goes up. The police officers on the street didn’t create economic disparity, school dropout rates, family dysfunction or any number of social ills that lead to people killing each other.

What is true is law enforcement suffers the brunt of dealing with the symptoms of our unresolved social problems.

In communities where murder is out of control, police need to be present. Without cops on the streets, you will not get a handle on out-of-control killing.

It also means people will go to jail — especially those who have demonstrated a complete disregard for the rule of law.

I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next few years we continue to see a continued rise in murder rates. Big cities are the first to show signs of something going seriously wrong in our neighborhoods.

We’ve had two decades of falling murder rates in cities across America. Those of us in the suburbs still haven’t experienced the out-of-control murder rates.

But we should all be asking ourselves if rising murder rates in the big cities are a sign of things to come.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at