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February 1, 2021

CCJ's National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice releases latest "Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime"

noted here some months ago that the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) had launched an important, timely and impressive new commission titled the "National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice" and headed by two former US Attorneys General.  That commission has already helped produce a number of important works (examples here and here and here), and I see that it released yesterday this new report formally titled "Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crime in U.S. Cities: 2020 Year-End Update."  This webpage, titled "Impact Report: COVID-19 and Crime," provides this overview:

This report examines changes in crime rates in 34 American cities during calendar year 2020, with a special emphasis on homicide and other violent crimes.  The current study updates previous studies by the authors with additional data through December 2020.  The study was conducted by criminologist and Professor Emeritus Richard Rosenfeld and Ernesto Lopez of the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Thomas Abt, Commission Director and Council on Criminal Justice Senior Fellow.

Methodology

This study examines monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in  34 U.S. cities. Not all cities reported monthly data for each crime.  The largest city in the sample is New York, with 8.42 million residents.  The smallest is Norfolk, Virginia, with 245,000 residents.  The crime data were obtained from the online portals of city police departments. The data are subject to revision, and offense classifications varied somewhat across the cities.

Findings

  • Homicides rose sharply in 2020, and rates of aggravated assaults and gun assaults increased as well.  Homicide rates were 30% higher than in 2019, an historic increase representing 1,268 more deaths in the sample of 34 cities than the year before.
  • The magnitude of this increase is deeply troubling, but absolute rates of homicide remain well below historical highs.  In 2020, the homicide rate was 11.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in sample cities; 25 years earlier, in 1995, the rate was 19.4 per 100,000 residents.
  • Aggravated assault and gun assault rates in 2020 were 6% and 8% higher, respectively, than in 2019.  Robbery rates declined by 9%.
  • Domestic violence increased significantly during the early months of the pandemic, but these results should be viewed with caution as year-end rates were comparable to year-end rates in 2019, and findings were based on data from just 12 cities.
  • Property and drug crime rates, with the exception of motor vehicle theft, fell significantly in 2020.  Residential burglary decreased by 24%, nonresidential burglary by 7%, larceny by 16%, and drug offenses by 30%.  Motor vehicle theft rose by 13%.
  • Homicides increased in nearly all of the 34 cities in the sample.  In the authors’ view, urgent action is necessary to address these rapidly rising rates.  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.

Fox News has this lengthy discussion of this report under the full headline "America's murder rate increase in 2020 has 'no modern precedent,' crime analyst group finds: New report analyzes crime rates amid coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest across U.S."  Notably, Salon has a different take on the data in this new piece fully headlined "Did 'defund the police' lead to an increase in murder? Almost certainly not: In fact, hardly any cities have 'defunded' cops—the troubling spike in homicide is probably pandemic-related."

As regular readers know, crime trends are challenging to understand and predict even during calm times, and 2020 was surely the antithesis of calm times.  I am inclined to guess that the multi-factors chaos of 2020 contributed in multiple ways to the big increase in violent crimes and the continued decrease in most property crimes.  (I would hypothesize that drug crimes actually increased in 2020, but detection and arrests decreased.)  I would also guess that we will see some regression to the mean in 2021 no matter what happens with the pandemic and policy efforts.

That all said, I continue to wonder how a nation that has now become somewhat acclimated to thousands of COVID deaths every day will react to reports of a few dozen more homicide deaths each week in 2020.  It might be especially interesting to see surveys of community perspectives on the perceived threats of, and possible responses to, COVID and violent crime in a wide array of American neighborhoods.  Stay safe everyone during these remarkable times.

UPDATE:  Paul Cassell has a detailed examination of the new CCJ report under a full headline that highlights its main themes: "Explaining the Great 2020 Homicide Spike: While a new report released today by the Council on Criminal Justice downplays the role anti-police protests played in last year's unprecedented homicide spike, a decline in pro-active policing following the protests remains the most likely cause."

February 1, 2021 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

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