Homi­cide rates have plum­meted nation­ally since the mid-​​1990s. Even so, Portland’s homi­cide rate on a per capita basis has been among the nation’s lowest for years. And though aca­d­emic crim­i­nol­o­gists offer a host of data-​​driven the­o­ries that they say cor­re­late a variety of poli­cies and demo­graphics with murder rates, none appear to fully explain why in Port­land murder rarely occurs.

Almost every major city in the U.S., you can locate the areas of the city that have high murder rates by finding the neigh­bor­hoods that are impov­er­ished,” says crim­i­nol­o­gist Jack Levin, who teaches courses on the soci­ology of vio­lence at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity in Boston.

Cities with high rates of poverty have higher murder rates, Levin says.

Levin says 90 per­cent of the mur­ders in Boston take place in three low-​​income neigh­bor­hoods. He did a com­par­ison study between Boston and St. Louis, two cities sim­ilar in size. Boston had a murder rate of 11 per 100,000 res­i­dents, St. Louis’ rate was 46 per 100,000. Boston had 23 per­cent of its cit­i­zens living below the poverty level while St. Louis had 30 percent.

Another deter­mining factor in homi­cides, according to Levin, is immi­gra­tion — the more foreign-​​born res­i­dents a city has, the less likely it is to see murders.

That theory worked in Levin’s Boston/​St. Louis com­par­ison. Boston had many fewer homi­cides and 26 per­cent of its res­i­dents were foreign-​​born immi­grants. St. Louis had more homi­cides and only 7 per­cent of its res­i­dents were immigrants.

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