Murder Rate Coming Down?

Some new data are encouraging.

Via the NYT: A Drop in Murders

Nationwide, shootings are down 4 percent this year compared to the same time last year. In big cities, murders are down 3 percent. If the decrease in murders continues for the rest of 2022, it will be the first year since 2018 in which they fell in the U.S.

Here’s the graph of the murder rate:

Apart from the normative evaluation that less violent crime is a good thing, this struck me for two reasons. One, crime is always a major political issue, and the recent spike, in particular, has been a big focus of rightward media of late, since crimes tend to happen, in absolute terms at least, with more frequency in urban areas (which fuels tales of the dangers of America’s cities, which leads to the linkage of Democratic mayors as well as attention to the racial diversity therein).

Second, it seemed like the recent spike was linked to the disruptions of Covid-19, and if that is true, we should expect the numbers to start to recede.

Disruptions related to Covid probably led to more murders and shootings by shutting down social services, which had kept people safe, and closing schools, which left many teens idle. (My colleagues Thomas Fuller and Tim Arango wrote about the connection between the pandemic and gun violence.) But the U.S. has opened back up, which will likely help reverse the effects of the last two years on violent crime.

The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 also likely caused more violence, straining police-community relations and diminishing the effectiveness of law enforcement. That effect, too, has eased as public attention has shifted away from high-profile episodes of police brutality. A similar trend played out before: After protests over policing erupted between 2014 and 2016, murders increased for two years and then fell.

2020 was a chaotic year overall, with Covid, protests about police and a presidential election. This turmoil fostered social discord and anomie, which also could contribute to murders: As people lose trust in each other and their institutions, they are more likely to lash out in crime and violence. As the chaos recedes, the violence may be receding as well.

It is certainly worth repeating that “2020 was a chaotic year overall.”

At any rate, the decline is small, and so may not indicate a reveal of the trend, and the numbers are preliminary.

Still, I thought it was worth a quick note.

FILED UNDER: Crime, US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Alec MacGillis in an Atlantic piece, makes a pretty good case that a large part of this rise was due to the courts going out of session during the lockdown, and being very slow to get back up. An excerpt:

    Six hundred miles east of Albuquerque, in Wichita, Kansas, authorities had worried from early in the pandemic about the effect of closing courtrooms. They decided to do something about it.

    Violence had surged in the spring and early summer of 2020, as it had in so many other cities. Wichita police saw a sharp rise in drive-by shootings. And officials noticed something else, said then–police chief Gordon Ramsay: Many suspects arrested in the shootings were defiant, suggesting that nothing would come of the charges against them because the pandemic had shut down most of the court system. Defendants were, as a result, disinclined to take a plea deal. Why plead guilty to avoid a trial when no trials were happening anyway?

    As the nationwide homicide rate continued to increase in 2021, Wichita managed to buck the trend: Homicides there declined that year, to 54, a drop of 9 percent from the year before. Countless factors probably contributed, but local officials are convinced that their ability to get the courts running played a role.

  2. DK says:

    One, crime is always a major political issue, and the recent spike, in particular, has been a big focus of rightward media of late, since crimes tend to happen, in absolute terms at least, with more frequency in urban areas…

    It’s not just the rightward media that’s peddling the bogus narrative that crime is a Democrat problem, when the facts are the “recent crime spike” began in 2018 under Treason Trump’s failed leadership and unified Republican control, and that red states and Republican-run red state cities like Jacksonville, FL have higher crime rates than blue states and NYC.

    The But Her Emails mainstream media is also carrying water for right wing propaganda per usual, instead of celebrating that under Biden and Democrats, crime is down. That under Biden and Democrats, job growth is booming. That Biden and Democrats, the endless Afghan war is over, NATO is reuinted, and Russia and China are losing.

    That under Biden and Democrats, Americans are getting the best legislative record of the 21st century: historic infrastructure investment and pandemic relief, unprecedented anti-lying law, the biggest gun reforms in a generation, the most significant made-in-America scientific investment in a generation with CHIPS, the largest climate change fixes ever, long overdue veterans’ healthcare services, and lower prescription drug costs.

    While Rethuglikkklans run on radical right extremism, forced birth, insurrection, homophobic and transphobic hate, teacher shortages caused by the right’s book banning smear campaigns, and bankrupting diabetes patients with higher insulin costs.

    But Biden is old and Biden is a Democrat, so like Hillary he can’t be given any credit and we have to help braindead media bros pretend he’s a disaster when in fact he’s already a historically successful president.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As always, what goes up, must come down.

    Crime has never been as bad as news organizations and Republicans like to report. At least not since the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 80-90% of the criming happens in just a few neighborhoods, but everybody freaks out when some drunk throws a brick thru a windshield in one of the quiet neighborhoods. I wish I could show folks what a truly *scary neighborhood* looks like. I could of course, but they would shit their pants and never get out of my truck.

    **as a friend who didn’t live in anything like a “good” neighborhood said to me on my front porch one night.

  4. @OzarkHillbilly: As I am sure I have noted before, in my recently-former neighborhood my neighbors would freak out over “break-ins” when some kids would steal something out of an unlocked car.