Homicide and crime numbers sparked to historic levels with the onset of the pandemic, but new data shows the rates are trending downward — a hopeful sign the steady increase is over, though not back to where levels were pre-COVID.
Analysis of 30 U.S. cities by the Council on Criminal Justice found there were 202 fewer homicides so far in 2023, a 9.4% drop compared to the first half of last year.
The numbers were lower than the 2021 peak and definitely lower than the 2020 jump of 29%, according to the FBI, which was the largest one-year jump since the agency started counting.
But the rates reported this week were still on average 24% higher than 2019 numbers. And even if the numbers did reach the 2019 rate, that rate was still 15% higher than in 2014, when homicide rates were recorded at their lowest since World War II.
"The decline we see across the major crime categories is encouraging, but our country should not be comfortable with rates of violence that continue to claim thousands of lives each year," said Richard Rosenfeld, co-author of the study and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The study was limited to accessible data from 37 U.S. cities which report crime data for the analyzed offenses, so the findings aren't a full representation of each American city. Large cities — like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — are part of the report, but some others — like Houston, San Antonio and San Diego — were not.
Still, the report suggests nearly all offenses had lower or slightly changed rates compared to last year, with the exception of motor vehicle theft.
Twenty of the included 30 cities had a decrease in homicides — from 59% in Raleigh, North Carolina, to 2% less in Nashville — and 10 cities increased in homicides, from 5% more in Seattle to 133% in Lincoln, Nebraska.
There were 2.5% fewer aggravated assaults, and the number of gun assaults dropped 5.6%, though this number is only based on 10 cities from the study. Robberies, nonresidential and residential burglaries and larcenies all also fell.
Drug offenses rose 1%, and domestic violence saw a 0.3% hike in 11 cities within the study.
Motor vehicle theft has been a problem point for years, continuing to trend upward in this report. It's risen 33.5% so far, with the nonpartisan council partly laying blame on Kia and Hyundai vehicles being easy to steal.
The authors of the report say the downward shift should push policymakers and communities to "act urgently" to meet new challenges and continue the decline.
"The downward trends in violent crime we're seeing as the pandemic recedes should not dim the intensity of our commitment to reduce violence across the country," said Ernesto Lopez, co-author of the study and research specialist for the council. "Though the level of serious violent crime is far below historical peaks, it remains intolerably high, especially in poorer communities of color."
The council began producing these crime reports in July 2020, as the pandemic raged on and nationwide protests were sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. It's helped fill in the blanks from government agencies like the FBI, which typically has the nation's most comprehensive crime data. However, a new reporting system has failed to obtain data from some of the nation's largest cities.
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