Nationwide Surge in Homicides Continues, Slows in Some Cities

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Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

While a sustained surge in homicide rates continues in most cities nationwide, increases for 2021 slowed in some cities compared with the same period the prior year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Homicides rose by 4 percent in 22 major American cities through the third quarter of 2021, according to a study by the Council on Criminal Justice, which was a marked improvement for cities like New York, which recorded a nearly 45 percent increase in 2020, Chicago, which had a 55 percent increase in 2020, and Dallas, where murders were down 13 percent in 2021 after the city had its highest murder total in more than 15 years in 2020.

In 2020, murders in the U.S. rose nearly 30 percent from the prior year to 21,570, the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The rate of 6.5 per 100,000 residents was the highest since 1997 but still below historic highs of the early 1990s. However, some cities, such as Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., Louisville, Ky., and Albuquerque, N.M., had their deadliest years on record, with Philadelphia actually surpassing its previous high of 500 homicides set in 1990 after reporting 562 in 2020.

There is little consensus among criminologists and local law-enforcement officials on the causes of the spike, which has been attributed to frayed relations between law enforcement and Black communities after police killings by some, recent bail reform efforts, moves in some cities to bring fewer prosecutions, and stress from the Covid-19 pandemic by others.

In Los Angeles, where homicides were up 12 percent through Dec. 25, 2021, experts say the pandemic led to a pause in gang intervention and other programs targeting the people most likely to be involved in violent crime, contributing to an increase in gang shootings.

In cities like Portland, where the city’s 90 homicides surpassed an all-time high of 70 in 1987 due, in part, to sustained late-night street violence downtown, law-enforcement officials say that a police pullback has been a factor as the police department has struggled in 2021 to fill their ranks due to increased public scrutiny. Meanwhile, America has also experienced a gun-buying boom, and although early studies have yet to find a clear connection between the 21 million background checks for gun purchases in 2020 and the ongoing rise in violence, federal data shows that new guns are showing up more frequently at crime scenes than in the past.

In fact, police recovered almost twice the number of recently purchased guns in criminal investigations in 2020 than they did in 2019.

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