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Lessons From a Comparative Analysis of Successful Reductions of Public Violence Across Cities

Most macro-level studies examining homicide declines focus primarily on national-level trends and explanations. This approach overlooks sub-national differences in lethal violence reductions across cities. Some cities are more successful in reducing lethal violence than others. For example, the murder rate in New York City fell from 30.7 offenses per 100,000 in 1990 to 5.1 in 2012, whereas the murder rate in Chicago declined more slowly from the same level to 18.5 in the same time period. On a more dramatic scale, the murder rate in Medellín, Colombia declined from 232.4 deaths per 100,000 in 1990 to 38 in 2013, whilst the murder rate in Cali increased across the same time period (from 66 in 1990 to 84.67 in 2013). What might have caused lethal violence to decline in New York City and Medellín, but not (or to a lesser extent) in Chicago and Cali? In particular, what violence-reduction strategies and policies did these "success stories" implement that may have contributed to these declines? This paper uses a matched-city comparative design to examine the effects of city-level public policies on lethal violence across six countries. Specifically, this paper focuses on the effects of public policies designed to reduce crime, such as drugs, policing, imprisonment, and organized crime policies.