There have been many media headlines about the increase in crime over the course of the pandemic. Some point in very different directions. “Murders are up. Crime is not,” said Vox. “US crime: Is America seeing a surge in violence?” asked the BBC. Stories are based on different pieces of research. Some are from government agencies like the FBI. Others come from private research groups.
One well-regarded source, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ), has looked at crime statistics, comparing the first quarter of 2020 to 2021. Among the conclusions is that one type of crime has surged in most large American cities. That crime is homicide.
The NCCCJ’s most notable conclusion was that “The number of homicides rose by 24% compared to the first quarter of 2020 (an increase of 193 homicides).” On the other hand, “Burglary, larceny, and drug offense rates” dropped over the same period. The universe the NCCCJ studied was 32 cities. The smallest was Norfolk, with a population of 245,000. The largest was New York City at 8.42 million. The median population among all the cities was 645,000.
Figures for homicides in the first quarter of the year were only available for 24 cities. In 2017, the count was 756. That fell to 696 in 2018 and 659 in 2019. The number began to rise in 2020 to 790 and 983 in 2021.
Omaha had the largest increase from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, a gain of 133%. The NCCCJ remarked that this was based on a low number because the city is small. The raw count for the Omaha increase was only four homicides. St. Petersburg was next with an increase of 88%, but this was only an increase of seven people killed. Notably, some large cities had a high increase. Chicago’s 32% increase was from 33 murders on top of 102 in the first quarter of 2020.
While there can be debate about the change in direction of other violent crimes from 2020 to 2021, the figure on homicides is more conclusive. They are on the rise, particularly in some big cities.