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The 2016 presidential candidates are taking sharply different approaches when it comes to discussing criminal justice reform this election, even as more data reveals that 2015 was an uncharacteristically deadly year for major American cities.

While Donald Trump declares himself “the law and order candidate,” Hillary Clinton and her campaign are quick to distance the Democrat from her husband's 1994 crime bill.

Clinton even walked back her 1996 characterization of teenage members of drug cartels as “super-predators.”

Although the violent crime rate in the United States is down significantly from its peak in the early 1990s (when then-President Bill Clinton signed the now-controversial anti-crime bill into law), a new analysis by The New York Times found that murder rates rose significantly in 2015 in a quarter of the nation's 100 largest American cities:

According to the news outlet's analysis, based on new data compiled from individual police departments, nearly 6,700 homicides were reported in the nation's 100 largest cities in 2015. That figure is about 950 more homicides than 2014.

Roughly half of the total increase — 480 of the 950 — came from just seven cities:

  • Baltimore
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland
  • Houston
  • Milwaukee
  • Nashville
  • Washington

The F.B.I. will release its full 2015 homicide data later this month but the bureau's data from the first half of last year is available.

According to the F.B.I., the first six months of 2015 saw a 1.7% increase in the number of violent crimes overall, including a 6.2% increase in murders.

The New York Times analysis does not elaborate further on the total number of homicides or on total homicides per city. Instead, it illustrates the rate of change in the number of homicides as compared to previous years:

Image Credit: The New York Times
The New York Times

The New York Times also took a closer look at monthly homicides over the past year in Baltimore, MD, and Chicago, IL, where killings are up more than 45% so far this year. Just last month Chicago had its deadliest month in about two decades, with at least 90 murders in August alone:

Image Credit: The New York Times
The New York Times

In Baltimore, which exploded in riots after the death of Freddie Gray, the increase in homicides is mostly credited to an upsetting of the black market drug trade.

During the April 2015 riots, nearly 315,000 doses of drugs were stolen from 27 local pharmacies and two clinics. Police told the New York Times that an oversupply in the illegal drug inventory resulted in a violent battle for customers among drug gangs:

Image Credit: The New York Times
The New York Times


Image Credit: The New York Times
The New York Times

Another fear, however, is the efficacy of the so-called “Ferguson Effect.”

In October 2015, F.B.I. Director James Comey suggested the increase in violent crime is due to police officers showing more restraint in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the riots and protests across the country:

“In today's YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? ... I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration chief, Chuck Rosenberg, backed up Comey's remarks, telling reporters late last year that police “chiefs and sheriffs” tell him “they have seen or heard behavioral changes among the men and women of their forces.”

The White House has strongly rejected the notion of a “Ferguson Effect,” accusing Comey and Rosenberg of speculating without concrete evidence.

Previous reporting notes that some of the most drastic increases in homicides last year occurred in cities that have not been sites of major protests over law enforcement behavior, like Nashville.

Traditionally, the topic of the first general election presidential debate is domestic policy, putting criminal justice reform and violent crime on the table for discussion. Even without the F.B.I.'s full data on 2015 homicides, Trump and Clinton have plenty to address when they face off for the first time just under two weeks from now.

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