Homicide, for the first time in 45 years, is no longer a leading cause of death in the U.S., according to a new government analysis that shows it dropping out of the top 15 causes of mortality.
The newly released numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics show a decline in crime rates over the past few decades, arguably caused by a range of social, demographic, and law enforcement influences.
“No one will believe you when you say assault is where it was in the 1960s,” Gary LaFree, director of the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, told MSNBC. “Homicide started to rise in 1963 and peaked in 1975.”
LaFree points to several factors that have influenced the drop in violent crime, including greater numbers of people in prison, more advanced law enforcement practices, and the end of the crack cocaine epidemic seen in the late 1990s.
“I think that the key factor for crime going up is a legitimacy crisis,” he said. “When people don’t think things are fair, they’re more likely to act out.”
The numbers show a 4.3 decrease in assault deaths last year, with the overall death rate falling to a record low of 746.2 deaths per 100,000 people.
Unfortunately, rates for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, both in the top 15 leading causes of death, went up.
“It’s the aging population,” Dr. Roy N. Alcalay, assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center, said. “They’re not dying of these other diseases, so they’re dying from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
The top five causes of death in 2010 were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and accidents.