Amid new reports of violent crime rising in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FBI said Monday in its annual report for 2019 that reported violent crime in the nation dropped slightly last year compared with 2018.
The FBI reported a tiny decrease in the murder rate in 2019. The U.S. violent crime rate fell slightly for the fourth straight year, and property crime fell for the 18th straight year, to the lowest level since 1963.
Yet the FBI’s data are released so late that they have been overshadowed by a new report to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice showing that a “steep increase in rates of violent crimes in the early summer has continued through August across a broad range of American cities.”
Homicide rates between June and August increased by 53 percent over the same period in 2019, while aggravated assault rates grew by 14 percent, the report said.
The commission’s study mirrored a report released earlier this month by the FBI on crime this year through June, which found a nearly 15 percent increase in murder nationally.
Violent crime trends were local, with substantial variation, said the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project. The project noted that for cities cited by the FBI, 55 percent saw a rise and 45 percent saw a decline in violent crime in the first six months of 2020.
The report to the COVID-19 commission, led by criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri St. Louis, found sharp decreases in rates of drug offenses and property crimes from the onset of the pandemic in March through August.
Residential burglary rates during that period fell 25 percent compared to the same interval in 2019, while drug crime rates declined 41 percent.
The study looked at crime trends in 27 cities with a mean population of about 855,000 people, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
“The rise in violent crime rates over the summer is troubling, and it presents complex challenges for leaders of American cities,” said commission director Thomas Abt. He said that using effective, evidence-based strategies to reduce urban violence “has been made far more difficult by COVID-19, so subduing the pandemic is vital to our crime-control efforts.”
The commission, a project of the think tank called the Council on Criminal Justice, said it would issue recommendations to criminal justice system leaders as they work to contain the coronavirus and improve the system’s readiness for future public health emergencies.
Violent crime is expected to be addressed during the first presidential debate Tuesday, and President Donald Trump has long attacked “Democrat cities” for not doing enough to stop it.
More cities are run by Democratic mayors than by Republican ones, but murder is rising pretty much everywhere, regardless of a mayor’s political party, New Orleans-based crime analyst Jeff Asher wrote in the New York Times.
Big cities tend to overstate national crime trends, so a smaller rise in murder would be expected nationally, but a 15 percent increase in murders nationally in 2020 would be the largest one-year increase in modern American history in terms of both raw numbers and percent change (reliable data on national murder trends began in 1960).
The annual FBI compilation, based on reports from local police departments, estimated 1,203,808 violent crimes nationwide last year, a decrease of 0.5 percent from the 2018 estimate.
The actual number of violent crimes is much higher. The Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey for 2019, issued two weeks ago, said that only 41 percent of violent crimes are reported to police.
The total was 0.4 percent above the 2015 level but 3.8 percent below the 2010 level.
The FBI’s estimated number of murders in the U.S. last year was 16,425, an 0.3 percent increase from 2018 and an 11.6 percent rise from 2010.
Aggravated assaults accounted for 68.2 percent of violent crimes reported to law enforcement last year. Robberies accounted for 22.3 percent of violent crime offenses; rape for 8.2 percent, and murder accounted for 1.4 percent.
Firearms were used in 73.7 percent of murders, 36.4 percent of robberies, and 27.6 percent of aggravated assaults.