Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago was considered the murder capital of America. Murders in almost every large U.S. city surged in 2020 as civil unrest and the spread of COVID-19 triggered a widespread rise in crime. Murders in Chicago have reached 748, up 56%.
Jeff Asher, a statistician who covers crime data told The Washington Post that 2020 murders increased at a rate higher than any year since numbers began to be gathered in the 20th Century. Across 57 city police agencies he has measured, murders have risen an average of 36.7% in the first nine months of the year. He said in an interview with the Post, “Like everything else in 2020, the crime data was a disaster. There was a huge spike in murder, and it’s hard to say just how bad it is, but it’s fairly clear we are going to see the largest single-year rise.”
Because of the way police agencies report murders, Asher’s numbers for each city all start on January 1, 2020. The most recently reported murder figures from some cities are current within several days. In several of the cities, the data was last reported on September 30. Even with the uneven dates of data collection, the numbers tell a similar story.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports the huge number of murders in the city is nearly unprecedented. “In fact, 2020 will go down as Chicago’s second-deadliest year in the past two decades — behind only 2016, when the city saw 784 murders, according to the CPD (Chicago Police Department)”.
In two of the 57 cities, murders rose more than 100%. Omaha’s figure rose 106% to 35. The Lubbock, Texas number doubled to 30.
Among America’s largest cities, Chicago’s murder figure was followed by Philadephia, the “City of Brotherly Love”, at 469, up 36%. Next, murders reached 437 in New York City, up by 39%, 322 in Los Angeles, up 30%, 321 in Baltimore, down 4%, and 321 in Houston, up 43%.
The only measured cities where the number of murders fell other than Baltimore, were Virginia Beach, down 40% to 9, Durham, down 14% to 32, and Oklahoma City, down 21% to 46. It might be argued that the cities with very small numbers present too unstable a sample for the percentage increases or decreases to be statistically meaningful.
What an analysis of the numbers cannot tell is whether a sharp drop in COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths, which could begin before midyear due to vaccines, will cause the murder number to taper down to levels close to those before 2020? If not, the new bar will remain so high that it was unimaginable just a year ago.