Patterns of Criminal Homicide

The topic of homicide has always caught the interest of academic researchers and the public as they try to view it from a social or psychological perspective. According to Schmalleger (2008), the number of homicide cases reported in the U.S. in 2006 was quite small--less than 0.1 of all the reported violent crimes in the country--with robbery being the most common homicide case. He also states that homicide patterns can be identified by using sociodemographic factors such as individual characteristics, cultural norms, community characteristics, geographic region, availability of weapon and weapons used, gang activity and affiliation, and the victim-offender relationship. This paper will discuss the key issues that needs to be considered in order to further understand the patterns of homicide.

Homicide can be broadly defined as a violent criminal offense that involves interpersonal threat or the threat of harm. The range of possible harm varies from death to fear and loss of property (Schmalleger, 2008). Each homicide has its unique characteristics and history. Even though there are roughly 20,000 homicides perpetrated in the U.S. each year, no two cases are alike. In homicide research, it is essential that the various types of homicides are distinguished from one another with respect to the circumstances surrounding the homicide event, such as, the motives of the offender the relationship between the victim and offender, and the various characteristics of the individuals involved. There is no need to view homicide as heterogeneous in nature. One crucial factor that homicide researchers need to deal with is the assumption that different types of homicide may have different patterns and causes when the best thing to do is to just categorize homicide cases according to two criteria, namely, victim-offender relationship and the context of the homicide, in order to explain homicide patterns (Flewelling  Williams, 1999).

In the U.S., the South has a reputation of having high homicide rates. Some homicide researchers used statistics of violent crime arrests in the region to present their argument that the violence-related norms that were accepted in earlier times in the South had a significant effect on the production of high homicide rates in particular areas where there are a number of residents with Southern origin. Other researchers challenged this assumption and concluded that economic structural variables, particularly poverty, is the cause of the regional differences in homicide rates (Schmalleger, 2008).

Another factor that can contribute to understanding homicide patterns is the concept of victim precipitation. The concept focuses on the characteristics of homicide victims that may have precipitated their victimization. The aim is to examine both individual and situational factors that may have lead to the crime, and not, as many people think, to blame the victim (Schmalleger, 2008). May (1999) also presented a similar idea stating that social meanings attached to acts of violence, including homicide, seem to revolve around notions of culpability and victimization. She defined culpability as the degree to which the perpetrator is seen to be responsible for the violent act and its consequences.

The concept of weapon availability is an issue that is closely linked with homicide.  A report indicates that acts of violence can be gauged by looking at the availability of weapons, specifically guns, in a particular neighborhood. Availability can be viewed at the individual level as well as the community level because when there is considerable presence of guns in a particular neighborhood, it is easier for individuals to access them, hence, increasing homicide rate (qtd. in Schmalleger).

Guns and alcoholdrug use are closely affiliated with gang membership, which is considered as having a large influence on homicide. A study states that the association of gangs and homicide may be one of two general types, namely, gang-motivated violence and gang-affiliated violence. Socio-demographics such as gender, age, structural and cultural factors are analyzed in order to understand why gang membership has continued to attract the interest of certain groups of people. For example, it was found that gang homicides were more likely to involve minority males, to make use of guns, to occur in public places, and to involve victims and offenders with no prior relationship (qtd. in Schmalleger).

The field of homicide research has come a long way in terms of fully understanding the causes and correlates of homicide, considering that overall homicide rate has been the main focus of homicide research in the past. The early approach to homicide research has been useful and productive but now we find that other factors need to be also considered (Flewelling  Williams, 1999). The study of homicide is crucial int that it allows us to fully understand the reason behind acts of violence, thus, furthering our efforts to stop crime.


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