Police departments across the country that have spent years boasting about plummeting crime numbers are now scrambling to confront something many agencies have not seen in decades: more bloodshed.
Houston, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore have all seen significant spikes in the number of homicides this year. The totals are up in other cities, too, including New York and Chicago.
"We're in scary territory," said Peter Scharf, a professor at Louisiana State University who tracks homicides in New Orleans.
In Los Angeles, the number of slayings dropped slightly, but the number of shooting victims jumped more than 18 percent. And in Milwaukee, a homicide on Wednesday put the total for the year at 84 — just two fewer than happened in all of 2014.
It's too soon to assess whether the surge in killing marks the start of a trend after years of declines. But concern is growing that the increase could reflect a confluence of recent shifts, including deepening distrust of police that leads people to settle disputes themselves, officers who are afraid of being second-guessed and court rulings that make it easier than ever to own a gun. Tighter budgets that result in cuts to law-enforcement agencies could also play a role.
Some of the explanations vary from city to city. In Baltimore, the April death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal-cord injury while in police custody triggered rioting. After six officers were charged in Gray's death, the number of arrests plummeted — a drop that raised questions about whether angry or fearful officers were slowing down their activity on the streets.