Is Violent Crime Actually Rising in the US? Experts Say Spike Won’t Last | #College. | #Students


  • Shootings and homicides have been increasing for over a year across the United States.
  • Experts believe a rift between police and the public and pandemic stress are fueling the increase.
  • Still, homicides are among the rarest crimes and are nowhere near their 1990s peak.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Homicides and shootings have been rising in cities around the United States over the last year, but the “crime is up” narrative permeating 24-hour cable news over the last few months does not tell the whole story. 

Murder and gun violence are among the most serious violent crimes, but they’re also some of the rarest. More standard crimes, including most property crimes and burglaries, are actually down or steady in many cities, according to Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist and Founders Professor at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Criminologists like Rosenfeld predict homicide and gun violence will slowly return to pre-2020 rates.

“My expectation is we’re going to see a continued slowing of the rise we saw over the last year,” Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld’s research was cited this week during President Joe Biden’s meeting with police chiefs on the state of gun violence across the US. Surveying dozens of cities of varied sizes, he found homicides increased on average 30% or more during the summer of 2020 over the same time period the previous year.

That spike, which Rosenfeld said was the most significant rise in homicides that he’s seen in a single year, began in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis at the end of May 2020.

While Rosenfeld observed a rise in homicides around the US in the first half of this year, he said it wasn’t as sharp.

“What we’ve been seeing is just across the board increases, both last summer and through the first quarter of this year,” he said.  “And we’re going to continue to see — roughly speaking — across the board increases [in homicides] through the first half of this year, but with a larger number of cities not showing big increases or indeed actually showing declines over last year.” 

austin shooting

Police investigate the scene of a mass shooting in the Sixth Street entertainment district area of Austin, Texas, U.S. Shootings are up all over the country since last summer.

Reuters/Nuri Vallbona


Shootings and homicides are indeed up

Christopher R. Herrmann, a former senior crime analyst for the NYPD who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has also been analyzing how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted crime in the US. 

“The broad narrative that ‘crime is up’ is simply incorrect,” Herrmann told Insider. “Some crimes, mostly shootings and homicides, are up in many cities, but again, this is a very small percentage of violent crime and even smaller part of total crime.” 

Herrmann noted that in the country’s two largest police jurisdictions, New York City and Chicago, shootings and homicides have made up just 2.5% and 10.7%, respectively, of total crimes this year.

In an average year, one third of US cities sees a rise in homicides and shootings, while one third sees a drop, and another third will remain steady, Herrman said.

But in the first quarter of 2021, Herrman said almost every city saw an uptick in these crimes.

“To me that was the big red flag that it’s just going to be a bad year,” he said. “Everybody up a little bit and some are up quite a bit in 2021, so that was very disheartening.” 

While Herrman and Rosenfeld both believe the uptick is influenced by Floyd’s killing and a loss of public faith in police, it’s unclear exactly how anti-police brutality protests and gun violence relate to each other. 

Rosenfeld says there are two theories: One is that police who are frustrated with the animosity they face in the community are pulling back, and the other is that communities that no longer trust police are taking vigilante justice into their own hands.

Herrmann pointed out that if police pulling back was the sole reason for the uptick in violent crime, he’d expect all other forms of street crime to go up, too.

“So whatever the explanation is has to square with the fact that homicide and other serious violence is up, but most serious crime is not up,” he said, adding he believes the answer may lie somewhere in between those two theories.

The pandemic has also had profound societal effects that may be contributing to the spike, according to Herrmann. 

“Unemployment, financial stress, housing insecurity, food shortages, and then all that stuff that leads to mental health issues,” Herrmann said. “And then once mental health issues start kicking in, that’s when everyone starts taking the law into their own hands.” 

police tape

A Minneapolis Police officer unrolls caution tape at a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images


But homicide numbers are still nowhere near their historical peak

Understanding the likely reasons behind the current rise in shootings and homicides, and seeing that rise taper off over the past few months, gives Rosenfeld hope that the numbers will eventually return to what they were before the summer of 2020.

Homicide rates first peaked in the 1980s and came down a little before peaking again in the early 1990s, Rosenfeld said. They’ve been dropping ever since.

“We’re nowhere near the early 1990s peak — we’re still running at roughly half the peak,” he said. “So the recent increases, while they’re quite troubling, have not appended the crime drop.”

The US could see another violent crime peak if homicide and shooting rates continued at the scale of last summer’s for several years, but Rosenfeld said he doesn’t think that’s likely — unless there’s another seismic event like Floyd’s murder that kicks off a fresh wave of nationwide unrest.

Herrmann agrees that violent crime will likely taper off soon, as it tends to rise in summer months. 

“We’ll have a horrible summer of shootings and homicides, and there’s another month and a half of that, And then we’ll start to see things settle down,” he said. “We’ll really have to wait until first quarter of 2022 to see what the trend is going to be.” 



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