What's Driving The Increase In Violent Crime In Many Cities?

For months now we’ve been reporting on a sharp increase in the number of shootings and homicides in places like New York CityChicago, and Minneapolis since the COVID-related lockdowns took effect back in March, but the problem isn’t limited to just a few metropolitan areas.

According to a recent report by the Police Executive Research Forum, 58% of 223 law enforcement jurisdictions are reporting an increase of homicides this year, with the total number of murders 28% higher in the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.

What’s the reason for the crime spike? It varies from city to city, but in interviews with senior law enforcement officials, PERF found several common denominators, starting with an increase in gang and drug-related crimes.

Houston Assistant Police Chief Heather Morris says that the number of gang members who’ve been the victim of homicides has jumped from 25 in 2019 to 57 so far this year, and adds that many of those shooting suspects are already involved in the criminal justice system.

A big thing we’re seeing right now is the number of people on bond or parole committing homicide. We had 28 suspects last year who were on bond or parole when they committed a murder, and this year we’ve had 44. The person who killed one of our officers a week ago was out on $100 bond for unlawfully possessing a weapon. We always have people out on bond or parole who commit crimes, but the number is higher this year. Bond reform in some cases is needed, but you have people who allegedly committed violent crimes getting out on bond when they haven’t in the past.

In Louisville, homicides are up almost 80% compared to 2019, and Assistant Chief Andy McClinton also pins the blame on an increase in gang-related shootings as well as the protests that have continued to rock the city since the death of Breonna Taylor back in March. McClinton says that the protests divert officers away from high-crime neighborhoods, while COVID has limited contacts with the public.

Our self-initiated activity, traffic stops, and field interrogations have plummeted. I think that’s another reason we’re seeing the high number of rounds fired. If our self-initiated activity is low and people know that there’s a fairly good chance they’re not going to get stopped, they ride around in vehicles armed. They are very aware of what is going on in our city with both the pandemic and the protests. Knowing that we are tied up and busy and they probably won’t be stopped, there are many more guns being carried and people riding around with rifles in their cars.

In the past, if you didn’t have your gun with you and you saw someone you had a disagreement with, you’d have to go get that gun and then go back and look for them. Now we’re seeing that these guns are on them, and when they see someone they don’t have to wait. They pull the gun out and start shooting.

LAPD Captain Paul Vernon, meanwhile, says that COVID actually caused violent crime, including shootings and homicides, to decline in Los Angeles in the spring, but that changed as protests over the death of George Floyd rocked the city.

When the protests hit at the end of May, that’s when the violent crime went out of control. I see three reasons for that. Police were distracted by all the protests. There was also the political rhetoric about the police that emboldened the criminals. And the defunding of the police takes resources away, particularly from the specialized units that go after the violent criminals.

Vernon notes that arrests are down 32% in Los Angeles since May, though he adds that weapons-related arrests are down by just 9%, which he attributes to “a lot of guns out there.” Apparently California’s restrictive gun control laws aren’t the only laws being ignored by the city’s criminal element.

Most of the law enforcement officials interviewed by PERF highlight both a rise in gang-related shootings and a pullback on proactive policing efforts, which has helped to create an atmosphere where criminals feel emboldened. In many cases these gang members are literally getting away with murder, and when crimes are committed without consequence, it leads to the vicious cycle of violence that’s playing out in far too many of our cities.

Jun 20, 2021 11:30 AM ET