In the days ahead, police depart­ments around the country will announce their homi­cide tal­lies for 2008, noting whether they are up or down com­pared with last year. Regard­less of these short-​​term changes, there is a dis­turbing trend afoot that lies beneath the sur­face of overall crime figures.

A new report issued by experts at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on pat­terns and trends in homi­cide since 2000 shows that, despite the small fluc­tu­a­tions in overall homi­cide rates, there has been a dra­matic surge in homi­cides involving young black males with guns. The find­ings paint a very dif­ferent pic­ture con­cerning recent trends in murder from the apparent tran­quility sug­gested by overall sta­tis­tics released by the FBI.

James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family pro­fessor of crim­inal jus­tice and pro­fessor of law, policy and society and Marc Swatt, assis­tant pro­fessor of crim­inal jus­tice, both at North­eastern, exam­ined detailed data on vic­tims and offenders of homi­cide over the past three decades with spe­cial focus on trends emerging in the years since 2000. They found, for example, that between 2002 and 2007, the number of homi­cides involving black male juve­niles as vic­tims grew by 31% and, as per­pe­tra­tors, by 43%. The num­bers esca­late even more within the same group when guns were used as weapons, with increases of 54% for vic­tims and 47% for perpetrators.

Although the overall rate of homi­cide in the United States remains rel­a­tively low,” observed Fox, “the land­scape is quite dif­ferent for count­less Amer­i­cans living (and some dying) in violence-​​infested neighborhoods—those for whom the fright­ening sounds of gun­fire is a far too fre­quent occurrence.”

Fox and Swatt also ana­lyzed trends in regions, states and cities. The increase in homi­cides among young black offenders, cou­pled with a smaller increase or even decrease among their white coun­ter­parts, held true for every region of the country and nearly all pop­u­la­tion group­ings of cities. This same pat­tern was true for a majority of states and major cities with avail­able data.

After some decline during the 1990s, the per­centage of homi­cides involving guns has rebounded since 2000, both among black male and young white male offenders. The per­centage of gun homi­cides for young black offenders has reached just below 85%.

Fox noted his con­cern sur­rounding recent Con­gres­sional leg­is­la­tion lim­iting the ability to track and con­trol illegal gun mar­kets, which may have con­tributed to the renewed increase in gun homi­cides since 2000.

With a new admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ington,” Fox com­mented, “the time is right to re-​​examine the fed­eral role in com­bating the youth gun trade.”

Demo­graphic pro­jec­tions sug­gest that the con­cern for at-​​risk youth should increase over the next decade. The number of black and His­panic chil­dren should con­tinue to expand, con­trasting with the rather min­imal increase expected among Cau­casian children.

There is an urgency for rein­vest­ment in chil­dren and fam­i­lies, said Fox. “In essence, we need a bailout for kids at-​​risk.”

Fox and Swatt lament the sharp cuts in Fed­eral sup­port for policing and youth vio­lence pre­ven­tion, which may be partly respon­sible for the resur­gence in homi­cide, espe­cially among minority youth. Pre­ven­tion has a cost, how­ever the ben­e­fits are far-​​reaching. Increased funding is needed for pro­grams that pro­tect kids and enrich their development.

Regard­less of trend, be it upward, down­ward or stable, the con­cern for keeping chil­dren safe is absolutely crit­ical,” said Fox.

Notwith­standing today’s finan­cial crisis, Fox urges restora­tion of fed­eral funding for crime pre­ven­tion and crime con­trol, in par­tic­ular the COPS pro­gram and juve­nile jus­tice initiatives.

We either pay for the pro­grams now,” urges Fox, “or pray for the vic­tims later.”