EDITORIAL: Crime rate trending up

More than 120 people have been murdered in Las Vegas this year. We’re on pace to easily top last year’s body count of 136 and to perhaps surpass the high mark of the past 15 years, 157 in 2006.

This troubling trend reflects a spike in violent crime in major cities across the country.

Newly released FBI statistics reveal that the murder rate in America’s urban areas was up 12.8 percent in 2015. The double-digit increase was the highest in at least two decades.

Overall, African-Americans made up a disproportionate share of homicide victims, the FBI numbers show. Out of the nation’s 12,893 murder victims last year, 7,039 were black, almost 55 percent. African-Americans constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

In addition, numbers compiled by the Major Cities Chiefs Association from 61 of the nation’s largest cities — including Las Vegas — found that incidents of other violent crime, such as robbery and aggravated assault, continue to increase, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The FBI did note that the murder rate was nearly 1 percent lower last year than in 2011 and 16.5 percent below the number a decade ago. To add more perspective, John Plaff, a law professor at Fordham, told the Wall Street Journal this week that 2015 was the “third safest year for violent crime since 1970.”

But while incidents of violent crime have indeed dropped significantly over the past 40 years, the recent data raise questions about whether we’re now midst an alarming reversal of that shift.

The obvious question: What is happening?

In May, FBI Director James Comey drew flak after telling The New York Times that a “viral video effect could well be at the heart” of the rise in violent crime, particularly in the nation’s large metropolitan areas.

“There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime — the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ ” he said.

He’s not alone in offering theis perspective.

“Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said a key driver of the jump in murders may be increasing distrust of police in major cities where controversial officer shootings of African-American residents have led to protests,” the Journal reports.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardi has previously rejected the notion that this area’s climbing murder rate may be linked to the so-called Ferguson effect. And it’s true that Las Vegas has thus far been spared the social unrest and protests that have broken out in some areas in the aftermath of questionable police shootings.

But it’s hard to believe that — at least in some cities — the police haven’t pulled back, consciously or unconsciously, in an effort to avoid potential controversies.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with increased scrutiny of police activity in minority communities. It’s a healthy and important means of ensuring that law enforcement personnel conduct themselves with integrity and treat those they serve with respect and dignity.

But painting police officers as the enemy is both dangerous and counterproductive.

There must be a middle ground.

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