U.S. murder rates up in 2020. Why?

Covid stress alone not a sufficient explanation as other nations with lockdowns and economic insecurity did not have similar numbers. This was an American thing.

Violence by police resulting in BLM protests and together resulting in poorer utilization of and cooperation with policing a hypothesis, but if so why not increases in other crimes?

My guess is that the biggest issue was the lack of school and other social structures for those most at risk for violence both as victims and as perpetrators: teen males. Other countries kept schools open more. We closed not only schools but also play areas, lake fronts, pretty much anything would keep youth occupied. At risk teens at higher than usual stress levels often did not sign in to classes and often had caregivers who were frontline workers unable to supervise them constantly. Structure and support were both absent.

Generally, people are murdered by people they know and trust. Quarantine force people together with no outlets.

I’ll take responsibility. My bad – apologies to everyone.

I think that the pandemic had a significant effect on policing, quite apart from any protests or reforms. As I understand it, police departments were often short staffed when officers had to quarantine (or become ill); guidelines designed to reduce interactions between people did so; etc. I work with a lot of federal law enforcement, and there was a drop in cases/arrests/etc. and a real disruption to investigations as a result of uncertainty (and personal reluctance) over doing field work.

Which is to say that it might well be that residential burglaries decreased because people were home; same is probably true for the drop in shoplifting-type offenses. But I also wonder if there wasn’t some reduction in “crime” because there was a reduction in criminal investigation. The report that’s cited says that drug offenses were down 40%… I wonder how much of that is attributable to a drop in drug enforcement.

It could easily be cyclical - the offending age range is around 15 years through to 35, and when the numbers of men in that age range falls, crime also falls.

The fact it happened in 2020 may mean that several things such as this and also social conditions and lockdowns have come together in a perfect mix.

Considering how alcohol consumption spiked, it’s a darn good bet little or none of of it was due to reduction in desire to consume drugs, so the difference is either disruptions in supply of drugs, or decrease in investigations about drug-related offenses and arrests of drug-related offenders.

I would think “poorer utilization of and cooperation with policing” would result in an apparent decrease in other crimes, because they are less likely be reported and investigated and therefore to make their way into the crime stats. But every homocide is going to make its way into the official numbers.

In addition, one of the main focuses of BLM anti-policing pressure has been directed at stop-and-frisk anti-gun measures and anti-gang units, which are specficially aimed at preventing violent crimes. Not so much burglaries and such. So if the police stop taking illegal guns and their bearers off the streets, it will manifest as an increase in gang shootouts, but will not impact burglaries and car thefts and the like.

All these things are complicated and this too could be something of a factor, but I highly doubt if this is anything close to “the biggest issue”. The people running around shooting each other are typically not the same people who are in school, regardless of age.

Is some of the problem pushback from police from all the protests and reduction of funding? I can imagine (but have no proof) that departments have lower morale which would effect policing. It might also be some I’ll-show-you attitude from police.

I agree with F-P, though, that this is all very complicated and trying to find major reasons will be fruitless.


My absolutely not-backed-up-by-evidence-or-research opinion.

  1. People not commuting for work. Normally, you get peeved at the spouse at home. You leave in the morning, you grumble about it to your cube-mate who commiserates with you, and it defuses the situation. Or you go out to lunch, grumble with the server about how being married sucks, and you blow off steam. Now, you don’t have that break from your spouse, and if you have to listen to their nose whistle while they breathe ONE MORE TIME, and, well, stabby-stabby.
  2. Difference in population density. Pre-covid, 100,000 people drive into work, work for the day, then leave. Police-folks know where crime will happen, where muggings will happen, and they have higher patrol rates there. During Covid, no more mass centers of people, which spreads the crime over a wider area, and is less patrolled. So, in the past, where a mugging could be foiled by a random passer-by, there’s nobody out to see this happen and stop it, so a mugging turns into a murder.
  3. Feeling constrained. As a population, our free will and free movement were constrained, and as adults we were denied the ability to go where we want and do what we want (you know what I mean, don’t argue for argument sake). Now, we’re being caged up. Like the tigers you see in a too-small cage in India, people were pacing back and forth, raging to get out. And then suddenly, someone makes an unfunny joke about my haircut, and I find I have a weapon in my hand, and my self-control has been worn thin… Stabby-stabby.

Those are my three uneducated guesses on this, backed with no facts whatsoever.

Maybe COVID is a red herring, and the real issue is that Trumpism is a toxic, extremist ideology that glorifies violence and normalizes escalating interpersonal conflicts. As Trump went further and further off the rails, the Trumpists expressed their own rage in violent acts.

These are all just so stories, without knowing the demographics that saw a r8se in murders and murderers.

Final detailed reporting is not due for release until September but we have some.

Pretty sure it will correlate with SES.

So you’re suggesting that Trump being elected in 2016 caused a spike in murders three and a half years later, coincidently at the exact time of the George Floyd protests?

Are these other nations also having similar gun cultures?

Obviously it cannot have anything to do with the fact that those other countries have nowhere near the number of guns that the US does.

Another possibility is that because of the risk of spread of Covid in jails and prisons, a substantially higher number of arrested criminals were given pre-trial release rather than kept in jail and convicted prisoners were released from prison early. Some of these released may have then committed murders.

Reading the report again, I’m increasingly convinced that it may have something to do with the way the report was done. I don’t know what a good “basket of goods” style approach to crime would look like, but they picked several categories of offenses (and, to the extent that the data was drawn from police department databases, this is all, by definition, reported crimes).

But they looked at homicides (up); aggravated assaults (up); gun assaults (up); domestic violence (same); robbery (down); residential burglary (down); commercial burglary (down); larceny (down); motor vehicle theft (up); drug offenses (down).

The decline in burglaries and larcenies (which often means shoplifting type offenses) seems to track business closures and stay at home orders. I’m surprised by the domestic violence findings (but DV reporting is always tricky) and I’m quite certain that the drug offense is significantly driven by a drop in enforcement.

Which is to say that we’re seeing a drop in crime that is more difficult (or less appealing) to commit (or detect) as a result of the pandemic response. DV is the outlier here. I don’t know what crimes would be easier to commit, but I wouldn’t discount the idea that all crime would have increased and that we are just looking at the wrong offenses.

I agree. That does seem obvious.

We’re not discussing the absolute rate of murders here. We’re discussing the YOY change.


But guns mainly AMPLIFY trends more than cause them. We’d still expect to see more violent crime and more murders in other countries relative to their baselines. Yeah, YOY trend. And this does include poor countries in which guns are prevalent due to armed conflicts.

I’m not hearing that reported. In fact some of the countries with the world’s highest homicide rates saw drops albeit numbers varied by country.

Police are retiring at record rates. Morale is low. After ‘defund the police’ hit Austin, retirements and resignations went ip 100%.

So there are fewer police, and they are demoralized. At the same time, violent crime has gone way up.

It’s a mystery.