US murder rates in 2020 soar 30 per cent and have ‘no modern precedent’


Murder rates in nearly three dozen American cities exploded in 2020, rising 30 percent over the previous year, resulting in 1,200 more deaths from murder last year when compared to 2019, according to a new study examining possible connections between crime, the coronavirus pandemic and protests against police brutality. 

‘Homicide rates were higher during every month of 2020 relative to rates from the previous year. That said, rates increased significantly in June, well after the pandemic began, coinciding with the death of George Floyd and the mass protests that followed,’ states a report from the National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ), titled Pandemic, Social unrest and Crime in US Cities. 

The group, which was launched in July 2020 by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system and make recommendations, characterized the homicide rate spike as an ‘historic’ and ‘troubling increase that has no modern precedent.’ 

National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ) on Monday released a study, which found that murder rates in 34 American cities rose nearly 30 per cent in 2020

National Commission of COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ) on Monday released a study, which found that murder rates in 34 American cities rose nearly 30 per cent in 2020

In Chicago, there were 278 more murders in 2020, which equated to a 55 per cent surge year-over-year, while New York City’s 131 added homicides accounted for a 43 per cent jump

In Chicago, there were 278 more murders in 2020, which equated to a 55 per cent surge year-over-year, while New York City’s 131 added homicides accounted for a 43 per cent jump

The 26-page study examined crime rates for 10 different offenses, including homicide, aggravated assault and robbery, in 34 American cities ranging in size from Norfolk, Virginia – the smallest city in the sample with 245,000 residents – to New York City – the largest city with 8.42million residents. 

Aggravated assault and gun assault rates increased by 6 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous year, but robbery rates slipped by 9 per cent amid the pandemic that had seen large portions of the population confined to their homes for months. 

Domestic violence rates based on data from 12 of the 34 cities in the sample spiked during the early months of the pandemic, but leveled off by the end of the year and were comparable to 2019 rates. 

Likewise, property and drug crime rates, with the exception of motor vehicle theft, fell significantly during 2020. Residential burglary decreased by 24 per cent, nonresidential burglary by 7 per cent, larceny by 16 per cent, and drug offenses by 30 per cent.   

Homicide rates were 30 per cent higher than in 2019, representing 1,268 more deaths in the sample of cities than the year before. Of the 34 cities in the study, 29 experienced a spike in murders.  

Chicago added 278 homicides to its 2019 total of 502, for an increase of 55 per cent, while New York added 131 homicides, representing a 43 per cent surge.

In New York City's sprawling housing projects, among them Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn (pictured), shooting rates surged 103 per cent, from 155 in 2019 to 314

In New York City’s sprawling housing projects, among them Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn (pictured), shooting rates surged 103 per cent, from 155 in 2019 to 314

In 2020, there were 52 shootings at 14 of the 15 Mayor's Action Plan housing complexes designated for extra policing, among them Brownsville Houses, up from 22 in 2019.

In 2020, there were 52 shootings at 14 of the 15 Mayor’s Action Plan housing complexes designated for extra policing, among them Brownsville Houses, up from 22 in 2019.

‘The three largest cities (New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) accounted for fully 40% of the 1,268 additional people killed in 2020,’ reads the report. ‘While there is variation among the cities, what is most notable is that homicide rose substantially in the vast majority of them.’ 

A closer look at New York City’s crime rate reveals that shootings posed a critical problem for the Big Apple in 2020, with rates increasing 97 per cent, from 769 to 1,518.

In the city’s sprawling housing projects, shooting rates surged 103 per cent, from 155 in 2019 to 314 in 2020, while murder rates nearly doubled, reported The City.

Much of that increase took place in New York City Housing Authority housing developments that were designated by Mayor Bill de Blasio for extra policing, community services and additional safety measures.

De Blasio in 2014 launched the Mayor’s Action Plan (MAP) for Neighborhood Safety in an effort to combat skyrocketing crime in public housing. Over the past five years, some $210million has been spent to bolster the initiative. 

Nationwide, gun assault rates increased by 8 per cent during the pandemic

Nationwide, gun assault rates increased by 8 per cent during the pandemic 

Aggravated assault rates in the 34 cities that were part of the study spiked by 6 per cent, compared to last year

Aggravated assault rates in the 34 cities that were part of the study spiked by 6 per cent, compared to last year 

Residential burglary decreased by 24 per cent at a time when many people found themselves confined to their homes during the pandemic

Residential burglary decreased by 24 per cent at a time when many people found themselves confined to their homes during the pandemic 

In 2020, there were 52 shootings at 14 of the 15 MAP complexes, up from 22 in 2019. 

Renita Francois, MAP’s executive director, told The City that the pandemic had a devastating effect on the program’s community outreach efforts.

‘We know we had a rough year but that’s not every [MAP] site. Not all of them struggled the way that others did. There’s just more work to be done,’ she told the site. 

Murders increased at eight of the 15 MAP sites, rising from 5 in 2019 to 16 last year.  

On the national level, authors of the NCCCJ study conceded that there is a cyclical pattern in homicide and other crime rates, which tend to spike during the summer months and fall during the fall and winter.  

‘That said, homicides rates in 2020 exceeded previous rates throughout the entire year and there was a structural break in the city average in June, indicating a large, statistically significant increase in rates after adjusting for seasonality and the longer-term trend. After this break, homicide rates increased sharply through July, then declined through the end of the year, though not to levels observed in the prior year.’

The study reveals how in January and February 2020, the average city homicide rate increased by 32.5 per cent over the same period in 2019. From March through May, the rate spiked 19.4 per cent. For the summer months of June through August, the homicide rate skyrocketed 37.2 per cent. For September through December, the rate was 28.2 per cent higher. 

Experts found correlation between the surge in murder rates in 85 per cent of the cities in the sample and the coronavirus pandemic, writing that ‘it appears that as pandemic-related restrictions were relaxed during the late spring and summer of 2020, or compliance with them diminished, homicide rates increased.’

Robbery rates slipped by 9 per cent at the height of the COVID pandemic, but increased over the summer months

Robbery rates slipped by 9 per cent at the height of the COVID pandemic, but increased over the summer months 

Motor vehicle thefts surged, reaching the highest rates in the fall, as many people worked from home

Motor vehicle thefts surged, reaching the highest rates in the fall, as many people worked from home   

According to the report, the pandemic ‘has disproportionately affected vulnerable populations, placing at-risk individuals under additional physical, mental, emotional, and financial stress.’ At the same time, the outbreak has strained key institutions tasked with responding to violent offenses, including the police, the court system and hospitals.

‘COVID-related restrictions may have had an initial suppressive effect on homicides, but the waning of those restrictions, coupled with the strain on at-risk individuals and key institutions – aggravated further by the lack of outreach to such individuals – have all likely contributed to elevated homicide rates in 2020,’ the study reads. 

Domestic violence rates based on data from 12 of the 34 cities in the sample spiked during the early months of the pandemic, but leveled off by the end of the year

Domestic violence rates based on data from 12 of the 34 cities in the sample spiked during the early months of the pandemic, but leveled off by the end of the year

The NCCCJ report also highlights the fact that the ‘precipitous rise’ in homicides coincided with the emergence of mass protests after George Floyd was killed in late May by a police officer in Minneapolis. 

‘That said, the connection between police violence, protests and social unrest, and heightened community violence remains uncertain,’ the authors stress. 

The study also points out that while the year-to-year increase ‘is cause for concern,’ the absolute homicide rate remains ‘well below historical highs.’

‘In 2020, in sample cities the homicide rate was 11.4 deaths per 100,000 residents; twenty-five years earlier, in 1995, the rate for the same sample was 19.4 deaths per 100,000 residents,’ according to the report. 



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