U.S. even with nations in common crimes, except homicide


“The weapon of mass destruction in our society is the 17-year-old boy, ” Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago crime lab told the urban crime summit this week.

By Joe Lambe

In numbers of muggings, stolen cars and sex crimes, the United States is amazingly average among developed nations – just its homicides are “off the charts,” an expert testified Tuesday.

Blame much of that on impulsive youth, cultural factors and the easy availability of guns, said Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago crime lab.

He spoke at Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s urban crime summit at UMKC.

Chicago had 506 homicides last year, the most of any U.S. city, but it ranks far below St. Louis and Kansas City in homicide rates. The two Missouri cities are in the top 10 cities in homicides per population while Chicago is in about the middle of the pack, Pollack said.

The crime summit features a panel of Koster and the mayors and police chiefs of Kansas City and St. Louis. They met Monday and Tuesday in Kansas City and are now meeting for two days in St Louis. In about December, Koster will make recommendations for changes intended to reduce violence in the two cities.

When it comes to sudden death, Pollack said, “The weapon of mass destruction in our society is the 17-year-old boy.”

They are aggressive and often wrongly sense hostility – someone trying to “punk them” – in behavior as ambiguous as someone bumping into them in a hallway.

More than seven in  ten Chicago homicides were traced to impulsive acts and only 10 percent to killings related to drugs, he said.

And more than eight in ten involved handguns, he said, but that is a difficult problem.

There are 250 million guns in circulation nationwide, he said, “Guns are such a durable good – some of the guns used in homicides were purchased in 1945; they still work great.”

And the cost of murders is high, he said, an estimated $2.5 billion a year in Chicago. Studies of it and other cities also found that for each homicide, 70 people move out of a city, he said.

A Chicago program of mentoring for teens was effective in lowering arrest rates and in other gains, but results faded over time, he said. Still, the inexpensive program saved money by lowering arrests and keeping youth in school.

There is such a hunger for evidence-based solutions to youth violence that liberals and conservatives are ready to confront the problem together, he said.

They ask, “What do you have that works?”


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