Crime rates across the U.S. have steadily fallen over the past few decades. However, the murder rate rose 30 percent between 2019 and 202, the most significant single-year increase since the early 1900s (1905, to be precise), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This increase even exceeded the 20 percent rise in the murder rate from 2000 to 2001, including the deaths resulting from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Discussions regarding appropriate law enforcement practices increased following this unexpected uptick. Over the years, several suggested police reforms have been proposed, ranging from the widespread use of body cameras to abolishing the police.
Debate On How To Reform Police
The yearly declines in murders and calls for increased vigilance in the wake of police killings prompted police reforms in past years. What was already a widely-debated topic and become even more controversial in the face of continuing community unrest and increasing crime rates.
Some are proponents of harsher policing measures to help curb what many fear will be a continuing problem (that is, they fear the murder rate will continue to rise), such as re-introducing stop-and-frisk policies. Others advocate for reforming current policing measures, such as bringing in use-of-force consultants and better de-escalation tactics. And yet more want to integrate expanded services that involve the police coordinating with community services, such as teaching officers how to respond to calls involving mentally ill or disabled individuals.
There is little agreement between political factions (and even within the parties) on the most appropriate reforms. Many are concerned about addressing persistent violence without violating individuals’ constitutional rights or further damaging the relationship between officers and the communities they protect.
Potential Causes For Violent Crime Increases
Similar to the murder rate, aggravated assault rose roughly 12 percent between 2019 and 2020. Violent crime increased approximately five percent during this same period, though rape and robbery (two specific subsets of violent crime) both decreased.
There is conjecture surrounding what caused the sudden upward trend in murder and other violent crimes. Two commonly-cited potential causes are the economic and social stress brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the strained relations between police and communities following events such as the murder of George Floyd.
However, preliminary data suggest that it may be possible to rule out responses to police killings as one reason for the increased murder rates. As reported by The Washington Post, which tracks police-involved fatal shootings, the number and circumstances of fatal shootings remain relatively consistent (roughly 1,000 per year). There was an increase from 2019 (999 shootings) to 2020 (1,021 shootings), but a decrease from 2020 to 2021 (962 shootings).
Context For The Increased Murder Rate
Though this sharp rise is the largest single-year increase recorded since the early 1900s, the 2020 murder rate (7.8 homicides per 100,000 people) was still 22 percent lower than the 1991 murder rate (10 homicides per 100,000 people) and far below the murder rates of the 1970s and 1980s.
Additionally, the Pew Research Center reported that roughly 61 percent of U.S. adults described violent crime as a “very big problem.” Although, the murder rate for 2020 was 42 percent lower than the suicide rate (13.5 deaths per 100,000 people) and 71 percent lower than the rate of deaths related to drug overdoses (27.1 deaths per 100,000 people).
As discussions continue for what reforms are most appropriate for the future, it is important to keep historical context in mind. In this manner, individuals will be able to propose reforms and practices informed by the past but equipped to handle the present and future.
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