October 17, 2021

Same As We Were Before

By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 25, 2021

Despite some rather dramatic headlines, America is not awash in crime nor has the pandemic increased most crime categories. 

According to FBI statistics, crime overall in our 25 largest cities was down nearly 30 percent in 2020 from 2019. As might be expected, because far more of us were home in 2020, home burglaries were way down but commercial burglaries and auto thefts rose. Aggravated assaults were down significantly but, according to the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice, domestic violence complaints increased by more than 10 percent, a statistic likely under-reported when the perpetrator and victim are stuck in the same residence. 

Sociologists and criminologists have logical sounding explanations for almost all of it, much of which boils down to common sense: Empty buildings are more likely to be burglarized than occupied homes, drunken bar fights don't happen if the bar is closed or occupancy is significantly limited, more cars are stolen when they're parked on the street and, in too many cases, familiarity bred further contempt in already at-risk relationships.

The one crime category seemingly unfazed by a pandemic or anything else, unfortunately, was gun violence and murder, both of which chugged along without much fluctuation up or down. Mass shootings, however, increased significantly 2020 over 2019 and are up even more already this year. The experts aren't sure why.

Mass shootings, as defined by the Gun Violence Archive, occur when four or more people are shot or killed in the same incident at roughly the same time in the same place.

(We've so many murders, we have to create separate categories. There are mass killings, spree killings defined as multiple victims in a short time span but not in the same place at the same time, serial killings with multiple victims over an extended period of time in multiple locations, and just plain murder.)

Already this year we've had 470 mass shootings incidents with 482 deaths and more than 1,100 injured. While not unique to the United States, mass shootings have become something the rest of the world identifies as an American event.  

But we should take heart because, in reality, violent crime has been on a steady decline here since about 1980. We are, in fact, considerably less violent and murderous than we were just four or five decades ago.  

Our homicide rate of 5.35 per 100,000 citizens doesn't even put us in the top 100 deadliest countries and is nearly 45 percent lower than it was in 1990.  By contrast, the deadliest country in the world, El Salvador, has a startling homicide rate of 82.84 per 100,000 population, more than 16 times that of the U.S. We're far down that list, wedged between Greenland and American Samoa.

The headlines paint a darker picture than necessary, with Chicago as the best example of reporting that isn't truly reflected by reality. Chicago does have an issue. The most recent weekend before this column was written saw 43 people shot with six fatalities in dozens of incidents. Almost every weekend is reported as a horror story of out-of-control violence. In truth, it used to be much, much worse. 

The city of big shoulders had 774 murders in 2020 and has recorded more than 530 homicides already this year. But in the 28 years from 1970-1998, the city had only four years with less than 1,000 homicides, and violent crime in all categories was 25 percent higher than today. On a per-capita basis, Chicago is only the 28th most murderous city in the U.S. Charlotte, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Cleveland -- to name a few -- all have higher homicide rates. (Detroit has the 4th highest homicide rate and St. Louis the highest.)

In fact, though we've ample room for improvement, we are not awash in violence, mayhem, and murder. The pandemic, despite fear-mongering politicians, the headline-grabbing media, and click-baiting websites, the various mandates that accompanied the pandemic have not turned us into violent criminals. And despite some early, dramatic suggestions to the contrary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports no statistically significant increase in suicides, either.

It turns out we are not such delicate and feeble beings that we are unable to adapt to the risks and restrictions associated with the pandemic. The vast majority of us have been adaptable though some have been complaining incessantly.  

The pandemic has not increased most crime and we should not allow ourselves to be talked into the notion it has. COVID is nasty business from which we should protect ourselves and each other, but it's the disease that's dangerous; it has not turned us into anything we were not before it started.  


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