Homicides Decline, But Report Warns Against ‘Complacency’

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Homicide rates fell in April and May in most large cities as part of a general decline in street crime caused by restrictions imposed to contain COVID-19,  says a recent report analyzing crime for Arnold Ventures.

Yet “there’s reason to think 2020 will be more violent than 2019.”

The report, “COVID-19 and Homicide: Final Report to Arnold Ventures,” compares monthly homicide rates in 64 U.S. cities between January and June of 2020 with the previous three-year average homicide rates during the same months.

Homicide rates dropped “dramatically” in such cities as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, and Dallas.

However, homicide rates did not fall in all major cities during this same time period.

There were rises in murder over the previous three-year averages in New York, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Houston, and others.

Of the 64 American cities studied, 39 experienced decreases in the homicide rate and 25 saw increases. The reason for the difference is unclear.

“No clear pattern emerged from this assessment,” said the study authors. “One question for future research is whether other characteristics of cities, including the level of compliance with shelter-in-place orders, may explain why some cities did not experience a homicide decline during the pandemic.”

While homicide rates fell in the majority of the cities, online fraud, extortion, and profiteering increased, as did domestic and family violence.

Moreover, homicide rates “for the remainder of 2020 may rise for a number of reasons.”

Homicide rates “fluctuate seasonally with higher rates in warmer months,” said the study. But other causes are “the continued easing of social distancing measures, along with the resumption of normal activity patterns, may create additional opportunities for crime and violence.”

The study authors said the “scheduled ending of federal relief for unemployed workers could lead some to take advantage of the increased criminal opportunities out of desperation and to supplement depleted incomes.”

In another factor noted by the paper, the response to COVID-19 has “exhausted public resources, including but not limited to police and hospitals, institutions that are crucial for responding to serious violent crime,” while the economic downturn is likely to affect those budgets.

Effective violence reduction “depends on proactive outreach to high-
risk people and places, and such outreach may be complicated by the ongoing risk of infection.”

Study authors said that a rise in homicides in 2015 and 2016 coincided with social unrest over police brutality and “the same may happen in the wake of the widespread unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.”

Concludes the report, “The homicide drop of the past two months is no cause for complacency about what lies ahead.”

The report was written by Thomas Abt, Senior Fellow, Council on Criminal Justice; Richard Rosenfeld, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Criminology and Criminal Justice University of Missouri – St. Louis; and Ernesto Lopez, Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

The full report can be read here.

Additional reading: Kansas City Records Homicides at Record-Setting Pace

Despite Pandemic, Baltimore Murder Total is Rising

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report

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