Homicide has been defined as "the killing of one human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another"

(Black, p. 867). However, federal homicide statistics reflect the police classification of homicide deaths as either murder or nonnegligent manslaughter, with deaths caused by negligence, suicide, or accident excluded. Some deaths that are not included in these federal statistics may ultimately be ruled homicides by a coroner or a court. Reported statistical data derive from various sources, including the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). Homicide figures reported from these databases are estimates, rather than exact numbers, because: (1) the classification is based on police investigation rather than coroner findings or judicial determinations; (2) many homicides are unsolved, resulting in the omission of data related to offender, and sometimes victim, characteristics; and (3) state agencies may fail to report details relating to homicides. These omissions in the available data may result in biased conclusions. For instance, the SHR does not include details related to approximately 8 percent of the homicides reported in the UCR, so conclusions from the SHR may be biased.

Despite these limitations, it is believed that homicide is the least underreported of any serious crime in the United States. Available data underscore the increasing frequency with which homicide occurs in U.S. society. As an example, the nation's murder rate in 1997 was 6.8 per 100,000 persons, compared to a rate of 4.6 per 100,000 in 1950.

Once considered to be an issue for law enforcement only, homicide is now recognized as a major public health problem (Novello, Shosky, and Froehlke). Because of disparities in the risk of homicide across subgroups, homicide must be considered as an issue of ethical, as well as public health, concern.

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