Domestic Violence Eyed as Factor in This Year’s Murder Toll

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National numbers for murder and other types of violent crime rarely move in opposite directions, but this is no ordinary year, the New York Times reports. Overall crime is down 5.3 percent in 25 large U.S. cities relative to the same period in 2019, with violent crime down two percent. Murder in these 25 cities is up 16.1 percent in relation to last year. Property crime is down in 18 of the 25 sampled cities, and violent crime is down in 11 of them, but murder is up in 20 of the cities. Homicides usually rise in the summer, which coincided this year with many people emerging from pandemic lockdown. An additional 11 cities provide year-to-date data. Murder is up 21.8 percent in all 36 cities with 2020 data through at least May, with 29 of those cities seeing an increase this year.

There have been only four years since 1960 (1993, 2000, 2002 and 2003) when murder increased but overall violent crime decreased nationally. The increase in murders was small in each of those years. The average difference between the national change in murder and violent crime since 1990 has been just 2.2 percent, so a big increase in murder nationally while violent crime falls is almost unknown. Jerry Ratcliffe, a Temple University criminologist, cautions against comparing crime figures in one year with the previous year. This year’s upheaval may be even more reason to be cautious. Phillip Atiba Goff of the Center for Policing Equity points to increased domestic violence as one possible cause of the murder riser. Ratcliffe agrees, adding, “COVID-19 could have reduced the market and opportunities for recreational drug use/dealing, which puts stress on the drug markets and increases violence.” The increase in murder might reflect a trend that began before the pandemic started. Nearly 40 percent of murders in 2018 had an unknown cause, say FBI data, and an implausibly low 131 murders were classified as domestic violence.

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