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How Bad is the Rise in US Homicides? Factchecking the 'Crime Wave' Narrative Police Are Pushing

Homicides were up across the US in 2020 and appeared to be primarily driven by rising gun violence, but other crimes fell


30 June 2021

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After decades of a primarily downward trend in the overall number of people killed, crime experts say they expect 2020 will mark the biggest single-year national jump in homicides since national crime statistics began to be released in the 1960s.

A preliminary government estimate shows a 25% single-year increase in killings in 2020. In some larger cities, the number of homicides has remained higher than usual through the early months of 2021.

While official national crime data will not be released for months, some trends are clear. The 2020 homicide increase happened across cities and towns of all sizes, from those with fewer than 10,000 residents to those with more than a million, according to preliminary FBI data. […]

The homicide increase appears to be primarily driven by rising gun violence, with the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive reporting nearly 4,000 additional gun killings nationwide in 2020 compared with the year before.

But what's happening with homicides is not part of some broader "crime wave." In fact, many crimes, from larcenies to robberies to rape, dropped during the pandemic, and continued to fall during the first few months of 2021. "Crime" is not surging. Even the broader category of "violent crime" only increased about 3% last year, according to the preliminary FBI data from a large subset of cities. It's homicide in particular that has increased, even as other crimes fell. […]

A preprint study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggested that a spike in gun purchases during the early months of the pandemic was associated with a nearly 8% increase in gun violence from March through May, or 776 additional fatal and nonfatal shooting injuries nationwide. The researchers found that states that had lower levels of violent crime pre-Covid saw a stronger connection between additional gun purchases and more gun violence.

Community groups say that the pandemic forced them to shutter prevention programs, and created huge challenges for the work of violence interrupters, who rely on close relationships and in-person interventions with people at risk of shooting or being shot.

[Graphic in original text]
A rise in murders, not a rise in crime
It's murders, specifically, that increased in 2020, even as many other crimes fell, according to preliminary FBI data

+25% estimated increase in murders in 2020
-10.4% estimated decrease in robberies
-7.9% estimated decrease in property crimes
-14.2 estimated decrease in rapes
3% estimated increase in overall violent crime

ID: N775

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