Map of the U.S.

The Geography of Murder in the U.S.

How much does geography influence the homicide rate?

A lot. A whole lot.

Did you know that half of all violent crime in the U.S. is concentrated inside 13 zip codes?  Furthermore,  2/3 of U.S. zip codes report zero to one homicide per year.  That means that 66% of the country is quite safe from murder.  

Murder is (by and large) a localized problem.

Murder Zones

These 13 so-called “murder zones” tend to share certain features.  They lean toward:

high population density

higher unemployment

or underemployment

more younger residents than average

more racial segregation

many vacant structures/lots

slightly more males than females


more single mothers,

longer police response times,

less access to medical care,

unsafe public transportation

greater disparity of other resources

lower high school graduation rate

Here’s one example from my hometown, Detroit, Michigan in zip code 48204. This area lies to the south of W. Davison and north of Tireman.  Some refer to it as the “Barton-McFarland” neighborhood.  If you’ve traveled I-96 at Livernois you were in the heart of it.  This five-square mile area ranked almost 800% higher than the national average for homicide.  On an international scale, zip code 48204 ranks 22nd as one of the most dangerous communities in the world

Most of Europe is safer than this zip code.

Another way of grasping how concentrated homicide is in the U.S., it’s safe to say that half of all murders occur within a collective 90-square mile area of a country of over 3 million square miles

In April of this year, a long-time resident of this hazardous area, 38-year-old Duane Peterson, ran the IJU (It’s Just Us) street gang.  He was interrupted in his beating of a petite woman in the parking lot of a liquor store by a car of people stopped at a red light.  They took notice.  He took offense. He showed his offense by shooting into the car, killing one of the passengers.

These 13 so-called “kill zones” can be found on the East Coast, in the desert southwest, in the heartland – even near the White House.  They’re not identical year to year but most never gain a rating of being safe.

US military personnel who served during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had a lower chance of being killed than those living in one of the top 13 zip codes known for homicide. The parents of these young men and women have every reason to worry.  Just walking to work, being at work, or pausing at a red light is enough to get you killed.  Homicide remains the leading cause of death for black males under the age of 44.  And young black females run twice the risk of dying from homicide than their Caucasian peers.

Four Other Factors Influencing the Crime Rate

Medical Trauma Intervention

Quick and effective medical trauma intervention saves lives.  Quite simply, talented, experienced physicians have become very savvy in treating GSW.  Our homicide rate would be higher without them.

Abandoned Buildings

A second influence on the crime rate is the number of abandoned structures.  The DOJ has shown the correlation between abandoned buildings and violent crime. 

Specifically, they found that 41% of abandoned buildings could be entered without force and 83% showed evidence of illegal activity including homicide.  Crime rates on blocks with open abandoned buildings were found to be twice as high as matched blocks without open buildings. 

Police Response Time

A third variable is police response time.  It’s often the difference between life and death.  Response times have swelled to unacceptable levels in many major cities, especially in poor areas with a high number of minority residents.  Response time is linked with the number of officers on duty to respond. Problems recruiting and retaining officers slow the ability to help.

But if you live in rural America, it’s worse. You may even be on your own.  Rancho Tehama Reserve California is an example.  It’s a settlement at the end of a two-lane road that meanders through the hillsides of the Sacramento Valley near Mt. Shasta. It was a peaceful place where everyone pretty much minded their own business.  But the crime rate has risen faster than the national average.  The Tehama County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for covering a 3,000-square-mile county.  They’re so understaffed that they cancelled daytime patrols.  They just don’t have the personnel needed to fill the role. They say a call to 911 will likely bring no promise of help. 

Stalled Crime Labs

A fourth variable impacting homicide rates (indirectly) is the underfunding of crime labs.  Labs that cannot process evidence in a timely and accurate fashion interfere with arrests and convictions.  So, detainees slip through the cracks and are released. 

Cold Cases

And this brings me to the topic of the increase in cold cases.  Hollywood could have us believe no one can get away with murder nowadays.  But despite mind-blowing advances in forensic technology, closure rates are dropping – down to a flip of the coin.  

There are many reasons for this. Chief among them are personnel shortages, an increase in stranger-to-stranger homicides, and an increase in a culture of “no snitching” for eyewitnesses.

Concentration of the Problem and the Solution?

So, what if spending was concentrated where crime was concentrated?  What if just a slice of the $280 billion spent at state and local levels annually were dispersed to address crime and crime prevention in these 90 square miles of trouble? 

I would submit that reallocating resources would not just benefit the residents of these hot spots of crime.  Anyone who drives through or works in or attends school in these areas would benefit too. 

What if?…

As Koren Reyes has said:

“The trick is not to think outside the box,

but to realize there is no box to begin with.”

For more detailed information and for other resources, please refer to my book What Now? Navigating the Aftermath of Homicide and Suicide, available now on Amazon.

Click this Amazon link:

I’m Jan Canty. Psychologist, author, podcast host, speaker…  and homicide survivor.

I am passionate about finding ways to support and help other so-called “homicide or suicide survivors.”

No one should have to go through this kind of loss… but if you do, I want you to know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 

You aren’t crazy. It’s not your imagination! Society does not know how to comfort us. Fortunately, we know how to comfort one another.

Check out my books and get tools and resources to help you or someone you love!