Rise in Homicides Reported as New Commission Begins Study of COVID-19 Impact

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A commission to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system has been established by the Council on Criminal Justice, a national think tank.

The panel, chaired by former U.S. Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and Loretta Lynch, plans to compile an agenda of systemic policy changes to balance public health and public safety during pandemics.

Other members include former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck; current Seattle chief Carmen Best; Oregon corrections director Colette Peters; Harris County, Tx., Sheriff Ed Gonzalez; and Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health’s Center for Health Security,

Also on the panel: New Hampshire Chief Justice Tina Nadeau; chief Jacksonville, Fl., prosecutor Melissa Nelson; Pastor Michael McBride, director of LIVE FREE; Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; University of California Berkeley Prof. Steven Raphael; and Jo-Ann Wallace, president of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Funding for the new commission was provided in large part by Arnold Ventures, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Microsoft, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and other supporters.

At the first meeting, the Council on Criminal Justice released a study of crime during the pandemic, which reported that homicides and aggravated assaults in 27 cities rose significantly in late May and June.

Homicides were up 37 percent, aggravated assaults rose 35 percent and robberies increased by 27 percent, found the survey by University of Missouri St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld and graduate research assistant Ernesto Lopez.

Gun assaults went up during the same period, but the increase was not significantly higher than in previous years.

The study also found that residential burglaries, larcenies and drug offenses fell significantly during the pandemic.

Commercial burglaries rose 200 percent during a single week in late May and early June and then decreased just as abruptly.

The big increase was likely a result of the property damage and looting at the beginning of protests against police violence after the death of George Floyd.

Both the rise in violence and social unrest are likely to persist unless effective violence-reduction strategies are coupled with needed reforms to policing, Rosenfeld and Lopez said.

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