The Impact of the Crack Epidemic on Local Homicide Trends

Margaret S. Kelley, University of Oklahoma
Andrew Lang Golub, N. D. R. I., Inc.

Several recent comprehensive analyses suggest that the best explanations for the dramatic rise of homicides in the 1980s and decline in the 1990s are that it resulted from the natural course of the crack epidemic and an increase in gun law enforcement. A richer understanding of the impact of each explanation could greatly help guide future allocation of policing and other policy resources. In this paper we seek to simultaneously measure the extent to which each explanation accounts for the decline at 23 locations across the U.S. served by the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program. Multiple regression techniques are used to test the impact of three possible explanations for the decline in young-adult homicides as recorded by the Supplemental Homicide Reports (SHR) for each location: A) the elevated homicide rate was caused by a shakeout in developing crack markets (in which case the violence drop should coincide with the plateau phase of the epidemic); B) the rates were associated with crack use in general and declined with overall crack use; and C) the drug law enforcement introduced in the 1990s had a broad effect across all locations. Our preliminary results indicate that given the variation across cities and the cut-points for the end of the epidemic, gun control measures were as important a factor in decreasing homicide rates as was the natural course of the epidemic.

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Updated 05/20/2006