US murder rate jumps in 2020 to highest seen since 1990s

Murder rates in nearly every city across much of the United States jumped last year to the highest rates since the 1990s, data from a new crime reporting system from the FBI shows.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Murder rates in nearly every city across much of the United States jumped last year to the highest rates since the 1990s, data from a new crime reporting system from the FBI shows.

2020 saw the country's largest number of homicides in any year since 1998. 20,000 recorded homicides resulted in the US largest one-year increase in the country's history. A 20-25 percent increase was recorded in every city that reported quarterly data.

Data was gathered from quarterly data in just over 12,000 agencies in numerous cities and states, and the conclusion made from there.

"We’ve never seen an increase like that. Previously the biggest one-year increase in murder was a 12.5 percent increase in the 1960s. We’re really talking about unprecedented increases in murder," statistician and crime analyst Jeff Asher told the Washington Examiner.

The murder rate for 2020, according to Asher, was at 6.22 per 100,000 people. Comparatively, the rate was 5 per 100,000 people in 2019, slightly down from the the year before.

Although some larger like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles haven't reported all their quarterly homicide data to the FBI yet, data from local law enforcement there highlights a match with trends around the country.

New York saw murders rise around 41 percent in 2020 over 2019. Chicago increased by over 50 percent, while Los Angeles increased by around 20 percent.

One thing that is difficult to mark, says Charles Lehman, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who researches crime and policing, is where these trends came from.

"One thing is that this past year was exceptional and that it’s hard to make a claim about general trends in a lot of jurisdictions. In New York City, this trend began before lockdowns. On the other hand, it’s impossible to dissociate these trends that are associated with protests against the police and city governments defunding their law enforcement. It’s worth noting that the last time we saw these jumps in murder was after the Ferguson protests," said Lehman.

In the new year, 37 cities that have begun reporting are seeing an increase of 18 percent over the same time last year. Some experts are finding a correlation between a rise in homicides and the beginning of pandemic-related lockdowns last year. But others are surmising that the increase is related to the increase in hostility towards police that happened last year.

"I don’t have data to draw enough conclusions because it’s early, [But] I would not be surprised to see an increase in murder through the rest of the year," said Asher.

"These spikes in murder are unsurprisingly associated with hostility towards the police and a retreat of police from public life," said Lehman. "When that happens, unsurprisingly, crime goes up."


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