John Locke Update / Research Brief

North Carolina Murder Rates Fare Well Against Other Cities

posted on in Law & Regulation, Legal Update
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When I was a kid growing up in St. Louis, my friends and I used to take a grim sort of pride in the fact that, however far our hometown might fall behind other cities in most rankings, our crime stats invariably put us at or near the top and frequently earned us the title of “murder capital of America.”

Now that it’s my granddaughter who’s growing up in St. Louis, I still take an interest in the city’s crime stats, but I no longer take any kind of pride in them. On the contrary, when I recently explored St. Louis’ crime stats using an analytical tool that’s available online at, I found the results very distressing.

The online tool makes it easy to look at and compare the largest U.S. cities in terms of murder rates over various time periods, and it also makes it easy to look at and compare how murder rates have changed. Here are the top 10 cities for 2017 along with each city’s average for 2012-2017. (The numbers represent murders/100,000 residents.)

                              2017            5-Year Average

St. Louis                69.46              56.44

Baltimore               56.23              46.92

Birmingham          44.86              36.32

New Orleans         44.25              43.05

Baton Rouge         39.18              26.13

Detroit                   38.99              42.89

Kansas City           30.96              24.83

Memphis               27.34              23.59

Chicago                 24.81              20.58

Newark                 24.43              33.89

From my perspective as a grandfather, the most distressing thing about these numbers is, of course, St. Louis’ over-the-top murder rate. However, given that the rate in 2017 was 23 percent higher than the 5-year average, the trend is worrying too. The rate rose even faster in Baton Rouge, but it’s an outlier, and, in general, it seems fair to say that St. Louis doesn’t just lead the country in murders per capita—it’s pulling away!

Readers will no doubt be pleased to learn that, compared to any of the cities listed above, murder rates in North Carolina are quite low. Here are the rates for all the North Carolina cities on the list:

                                 2017            5-Year Average

Greensboro             14.55              10.94

Charlotte                 9.22                7.55

Durham                   8.20               10.96

Winston-Salem      n/a                 5.99

Raleigh                    5.78                4.11

As you can see, murder rates in North Carolina are a fraction of what they are in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, or even in cities like Chicago and Newark.  And since I have four more grandkids living here, that makes me very happy!

I wouldn’t go so far as to say we can afford to be complacent. The trend is up in at least three of the five cities, and, in the case of Greensboro, it’s up by a significant amount.  Nevertheless, I’m going to add public safety to my list of reasons why I feel lucky to live in North Carolina.

Jon Guze is Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over 20 years. He received a J.D., with honors, from Duke Law School in… ...

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