A new study indicates the number of homicides rose sharply in the United States in 2020 and suggests the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice played a role.
The study, released late Monday by the National Commission on Crime and COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, was conducted by criminology researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It examined crime rates in 34 cities of varying sizes, ranging from New York City to Norfolk, Virginia.
It found what the researchers called “an historic” 30 percent increase in homicides in 2020 compared to 2019, with 1,268 more deaths in the sample cities than the year before. Homicides rose in 29 of the 34 cities studied - Milwaukee’s homicides rose by 85 percent, Seattle 63 percent, Chicago 55 percent and New York City 43 percent.
The study found aggravated assaults and gun assaults increased as well.
One lead author of the study told the Associated Press he believed part of the problem was the pandemic forced police officers off the streets all around the country.
Even when on the job, social distancing requirements kept officers from interacting closely with the community. He said, “That really reduced the ability of law officers to engage in the kinds of proactive policing that can reduce crime.”
The study found that the pandemic “has disproportionately affected vulnerable populations, placing at-risk individuals under additional physical, mental, emotional, and financial stress.”
The researchers say the virus also strained police, courts, hospitals and other entities tasked with responding to violence, and hampered violence reduction outreach efforts.
The researchers say subduing the pandemic, increasing confidence in the police and the justice system, and implementing proven anti-violence strategies will be necessary to achieve a durable peace in the nation’s cities.
The study authors say the crime statistics were obtained from the online portals of city police departments. The information is subject to revision, and offense classifications varied somewhat among the cities.