Finding America’s Murder Problem

The vast majority of murders in the United States occur in just a tiny percentage of counties, and even in those counties there are large areas where there are no murders. Fact is, there is not a nationwide murder problem—and therefore we can’t expect blanket solutions to promote public safety.

A full 68 percent of murders occurred in only 5 percent of counties.The country can actually be divided into three types of places—places where there are no murders (which make up the majority), places where there are a few murders, and a small number of places where murders are all too common.

In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, some 69 percent of counties have one or fewer murders, and they contain about 20 percent of the population. 54 percent of counties (containing 11 percent of the population) had no murders at all. These counties account for only 4 percent of all murders in the country.

Data for graphs provided by Crime Prevention Research Center

The worst 1 percent of counties have 19 percent of the population 
and 37 percent of the murders. The worst 2 percent of counties contain 47 percent of the population and account for 51 percent of the murders. A full 68 percent of murders occurred in only 5 percent of counties.

Murders actually used to be even more concentrated: From 1977 to 2000, on average 73 percent of counties in any given year had zero murders. This trend is possibly a result of the opioid epidemic’s spread to more rural areas, but no one has clearly shown what has caused this change. 

If the 1 percent of counties with the highest number of murders somehow were to become a separate country, the murder rate in the rest of the United States would have been only 3.4 in 2014. Removing the worst 2 percent or 5 percent would have reduced the U.S. rate to just 3.06 or 2.56 per 100,000, respectively.