With the end of the year comes the homicide body count from cities around the nation.  The poster child for violence in 2012 is Chicago where homicides reached 500 on December 28, a 15% increase over the 2011 murder total.  At the other end of the spectrum was New York City where the homicide rate continued its downward trend with the 2012 murder rate dropping 21% from the 2011 total. (For more details, click here.)   In the Midwest, the news was mixed — Cleveland’s body count was up 23%; Louisville was up 18%; but Dayton was down 28% and Cincinnati was down for the second straight year with a 20% decrease. (Full story on Cincinnati Homicides.)

The statistics beg the question — How much of the murder picture stems from drug use?  No one can put a precise number on it, but drug trafficking is clearly part of the problem in every urban area.  Cincinnati’s Police Chief, James Craig, points to heroin traffic as an underlying factor in his city’s homicides.  In Chicago, drugs are also part of the laundry list of causation — gangs, easy access to guns, high unemployment as wells as drugs tops the list of causes noted by various authorities.  Bottom line, while putting a number to it is difficult, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that drug trafficking is a significant factor in the murder rate.

Is there anything that can be done?  The answer is a resounding YES!  In any review of the homicide picture, drugs and drug trafficking constitutes a significant role.  In understanding complex problems, it is often said to “follow the money.”  And it is disputes over drug money, drug location or turf wars, and what cops refer to as a “drug deal gone bad” that account for most of the drug-related violence.  The tremendous profits in the illegal drug business are the fuel for the violence.  Taking that fuel out from under the drug business is the crucial step toward reducing the violence.

And how do we do that?  First, we follow the example of the citizens of Washington State and Colorado, who last November voted to legalize marijuana.  In all the discussion of the legalization issue, the one element sometimes easily forgotten is that pot proceeds represent an estimated 60% of the illegal drug revenue.  Moving marijuana to a legal, regulated status deprives the cartels of their number one cash product.  How many businesses can survive the loss of 60% of their revenue?

It would be a major hit to the illegal drug business and would be reflected in a lessening of the drug related street mayhem as the money at the source of the violence dries up.

Next — We’ll look at what New York is doing to combat homicides.