In 2020, amid the disruptions of the pandemic and the social upheaval following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, The United States has seen the largest increase in its homicide rate in modern history. Now, more than three years after the start of the pandemic, the country is on track to record one of its biggest — if not the biggest — annual declines in murders, according to a report released Thursday.
Even so, violent crime is still considerably higher than it was just before the pandemic, the benchmark that police chiefs and city leaders are trying to return to as cities remain filled with guns.
In the new a report, the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice examined crime data from 30 U.S. cities — including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Denver — and found that during the first half of the year there were 202 fewer homicides, down from 9. percentage However, murders across those cities are 24 percent higher than in the same period of 2019.
“I would call the result encouraging,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who was the main author of the report. “Not a cause for celebration. Most cities have not returned to the homicide levels that prevailed just before the height of the pandemic. So we have a ways to go.”
The latest data at least offer a hopeful sign that the increases in violent crime during the pandemic were not the start of a new era of steadily increasing crime, as many experts had worried. But the data is limited to the cities in which the council was able to obtain data, and the authors cautioned that for some categories only a few cities published statistics.
Gun assaults, for example, were down 5.6 percent — a positive sign for gun violence overall — but that was based on only the 10 cities in the study that provided gun assault data. Robberies, burglaries and thefts have also declined. Car thefts, which have risen significantly in recent years, in part due to the ease with which teenagers could steal Kia and Hyundai models, rose even more.
The council began tracking crime at the start of the pandemic, seeking to provide a timely snapshot of national trends and fill the void in extensive data from government agencies. The FBI, which usually releases national statistics in the fall for the previous year, was hampered by a switch in 2021 to a new reporting system that saw several large cities, such as Chicago and New York, fail to submit data.
Just as criminologists struggle to reach a consensus to explain sudden increases in crime like the US saw in 2020, concrete explanations for a decline in crime are just as elusive.
“It’s like settling the score at halftime,” said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based crime analyst who tracks murders across US cities and levels of law enforcement personnel. “Even if you go over by two touchdowns, it’s still halftime. And so understanding that context makes it difficult to say, ‘Oh, because it’s x, y or z.’ We don’t have a strong understanding yet. And it will take some time until we have an understanding.”
But many agree that the disruptions of the pandemic – the social isolation, the closing of schools and the lost jobs – have probably led to an increase in crime. More controversial is an unproven theory cited by some experts that amid the social unrest that followed the murder of Mr. Floyd, officers in some areas withdrew from enforcement and some citizens, distrustful of law enforcement, stopped working with police.
Notably, violent crime has fallen at a time when many police departments are smaller than they were before the pandemic. While the dismantling of the police movement that grew out of the Floyd protests lost momentum as crime rose, police staffing levels declined in many cities as officers retired or resigned and as many departments struggled to recruit new officers in a competitive American job market. The result for some major cities has been an unintended experiment in what a smaller police station looks like.
Los Angeles, for example, has dropped about 1,000 officers since 2019 — it had about 9,200 officers at the end of last year — and hundreds of civilian workers. And yet murders are down more than 20 percent this year, and overall gun violence is down at a similar clip.
“We’re still not done with returning to crime levels, community safety levels that we saw just four years ago,” Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said in an interview. He added: “We are not home free because of the persistence of gun violence, and the persistence of too many guns in too many hands.”
With fewer officers, Mr. Moore said the department is reliant on overtime and focusing resources on the most serious violent and property crimes. He said the department doesn’t respond as quickly as it used to for smaller issues, such as neighborhood disputes or loud, late-night parties. The department’s goal is to hire 700 more officers and 300 more civilians this year.
“The service levels have been affected,” he said, adding that the change has come at the expense of community members who normally only interact with the police on that type of lower-level issue. That “worries me because it undermines their sense of confidence and their sense of security in the department, and in government,” he said.
A similar dynamic of smaller departments and declining crime also played out in Philadelphia, which had about 5,800 officers at the end of last year, more than 700 fewer than in 2019. The city has seen murders drop more than 20 percent and spent millions of dollars in overtime. .
In Minneapolis, whose homicide data is not included in the council’s report, violent crime is also down substantially, and the department has about 300 fewer officers than in 2019. To maintain the reductions in crime, the department said it will focus its limited resources. this summer anymore crime hot spots in the city
Even with the increases in recent years, violent crime is still well below its historic peaks reached in the early 1990s. In periods of the last century when murder and violent crime increased, policymakers responded with increasingly harsh criminal justice policies: mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, harsh new laws for juvenile offenders, and massive increases in policing, all of which led to mass incarceration.
And as crime has increased in recent years, some mayors and governors have responded with tough anti-crime rhetoric. But, at least so far, there have been no major policy shifts toward more punitive measures like during the 1980s and 1990s, said Jeffrey A. Fagan, an expert on crime and law enforcement at Columbia Law School. Efforts to overhaul bail systems continue and progressive prosecutors have been elected in many cities, which, he said, “has shown that you really didn’t need these draconian measures that were put in place to bring the rates of violence and murder rates down.”