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Numerous major U.S. cities begin 2021 with elevated homicide rates

Murders remain up after year of violence, riots, economic chaos.

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New York police, Jan. 20
New York police, Jan. 20
(KENA BETANCUR/Getty)
Updated: January 23, 2021 - 10:31pm

Homicide in numerous major American cities remains at elevated rates in the opening weeks of 2021, reflecting the widespread violence that accompanied 2020's months of riots, domestic unrest, massive job losses and racial conflict. 

Numerous cities nationwide reported elevated murder rates through the year, with cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia posting double-digit increases

Chicago's latest crime report shows that its year-to-date homicides are up 43% relative to the same time last year. Most other crime categories, violent or otherwise, were down in the early weeks of 2021, but "shooting incidents" were up 61% relative to the same time period in 2020. 

New York City reports a similar, 42% increase in its year-to-date murder rate. The 28-day homicide rate — part of which stretches back into the last few days of December 2020 — was up a staggering 94% relative to the prior year. As with Chicago, most other crime rates were down, and New York's murder rate — even with its recent spike — remains far below the levels of the 1980s and early 1990s when the city was notorious as a hotbed violent crime. 

Yet the city's homicide jump last year and continued elevation into January paints a grim and foreboding picture of what may be in store for the Big Apple this year. The city saw 319 homicides in 2019; in 2020 that number was 468. 

Los Angeles also posted sharply elevated homicide rates going into 2021, with murders up a staggering 136% year-to-date compared to 2020, jumping from 11 to 26. Aggravated assaults were also up — 17.5% — for the same period, though other types of violent crimes were down modestly to sharply, leaving the city with an overall violent crime increase of just 3.7% year-to-date. 

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, year-to-date homicides as of Saturday stood at 33. That's just a 3% increase over the same YTD numbers in 2020. Yet it's still 50% higher than the YTD average of the past 14 years. Philadelphia's murders last year were up 40% from the prior year.

And in the District of Columbia, violent crime in 2021 so far was up 15% compared to the same timeframe in 2020, with homicide up 22% and sexual abuse up 33%.

Most police departments queried by Just the News declined to comment on their city's crime numbers and/or what the city police department is doing to combat them. But Sgt. Randy Huserik with the Seattle Police Department said that it's "difficult to quantify why crime rates have increased."

Seattle's year-to-date crime data was not readily available on its website, though the city's data from 2020 show that Seattle saw a 48% spike in murders last year from 2019, as well as a slight rise in aggravated assault. Arson, burglary and motor vehicle theft all saw notable increases as well. 

"[W]e have definitely seen an uptick in some crimes in recent years," Huserik said. "To address the increase, as well as facing record numbers of officers leaving the department in 2020, our Chief has redeployed officers previously working in follow up and other support units back to patrol, as well as forming the Community Response Group, which is tasked with managing ongoing demonstrations/protests as well as responding to 911 calls and taking up proactive patrols."

Major U.S. cities, beginning with New York City in the 1990s, deployed a computer crime tool known as COMPSTAT to fight high crime rates. COMPSTAT utilized weekly crime reports and data-driven citywide oversight to identify areas of heavy crime and police them accordingly. 

Writer and police advocate Heather MacDonald argues that COMPSTAT "holds precinct commanders ruthlessly accountable for crime in their jurisdiction" and that it "reversed the chronic lawlessness of New York."Critics, meanwhile, have argued that COMPSTAT's efficacy has been overstated, and that other police reforms and campaigns — such as better police training and zero-tolerance crimefighting initiatives — have had more of a measurable effect on U.S. crime.