The FBI reported on Sept. 27 that murders rose by 29.4 percent in the United States in 2020 compared to the previous year—one of the largest single-year increases ever recorded in the country’s recorded history.
The federal law enforcement agency’s data show that 21,570 homicides were reported in 2020, which is 4,901 more than in 2019. The overall violent crime rate, including murders, assault, rape, and robbery, was up by about 5 percent, while property crimes decreased by 8 percent in 2020, the data show.
“In 2020, there were an estimated 1,277,696 violent crimes,” the FBI said in a statement. “When compared with the estimates from 2019, the estimated number of robbery offenses fell 9.3 percent and the estimated volume of rape (revised definition) offenses decreased 12.0 percent.
“Nationwide, there were an estimated 6,452,038 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates.”
The FBI also reported that burglaries and larceny-thefts declined by 7.4 percent and 10.6 percent respectively, while motor vehicle thefts rose by 11.8 percent.
Jeff Asher, a data consultant who studies crime, told NPR that the increase in 2020 is the largest since national records starting being kept in the 1960s.
“In the ’90s, New York and Los Angeles accounted for 13.5 percent of all murders nationally. Last year, it was under 4 percent,” he said. “So it’s a lot more diffuse than it was in the ’90s.”
The murder rate was higher in cities with smaller populations—between 10,000 and 250,000 people—than in cities between 250,000 and 1 million, according to FBI data.
“It was up over 30 percent in both, so neither was good, but it was worse slightly, percentage-wise in smaller cities,” Asher said. “It was bad everywhere. There’s not a good murder takeaway there.”
James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, told USA Today that 2020’s murder spike might not indicate a long-term trend.
“Last year was unique in many ways,” Fox said. “Because of the pandemic, people were not in structured activities: Kids were not in school and adults were not at work. The whole country was divided by politics, the response to the coronavirus, and the social justice movement.”
Some police groups have said that the rise in crime can be at least partially attributed to the anti-police animus that arose during Black Lives Matter protests and riots in 2020, sparked by George Floyd’s death. In late June, the National Fraternal Order of Police (NFOP) tied the associated “defund the police” movement to a rise in homicides nationwide.
The mayors of some cities need to “restore the rule of law” and “oppose rogue District Attorneys not prosecuting violent crime” that allow criminals to “roam free,” the group wrote on Twitter. NFOP Vice President Joe Gamaldi told the Daily Caller around the same time that lax bail, or bail reform, is allowing suspected violent offenders back into society.
The Department of Justice announced earlier in 2021 that it would establish special task forces to focus on firearm trafficking across the United States, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the California Bay Area, Sacramento, and Washington.