Murders up nearly 30% in 2020, largest 1-year jump ever

Homicides in the U.S. in 2020 increased nearly 30% over the previous year, the largest one-year jump since the FBI began keeping records, according to figures released Monday by the agency.

Homicides and non-negligent manslaughters climbed an estimated 29.4% to 21,570, an increase of 4,901 over 2019, FBI data showed. It is the highest estimated total since the early 1990s, when homicides stayed above 23,000 a year as drug wars played out in many places in the U.S.

Violent crimes in 2020 went up by a more moderate 5.6% over the previous year while property crimes continued a nearly two-decade decline, falling 7.8%. Robbery and rape dropped 9.3% and 12% respectively.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said he considered 2020 a "unique situation" and not part of any sort of long-term trend. He attributed the dramatic uptick to a confluence of factors, including the coronavirus pandemic, conflicts over politics and race and people just generally having too much free time.

"I don’t want to minimize what’s happened. I just don’t want people to believe that the sky is falling and that this is a permanent" trend, Fox added. Even with the huge homicide rise, he noted, the number is still far lower than what the country endured during the crack cocaine epidemic 30 years ago.

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While the drops in other crime categories are positive news, homicides were the stunning trend — one that has continued this year. A number of communities, rural and metropolitan, have experienced continued increases in homicides. The rising violence has become a political battleground in the year after protests over policing erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Several candidates with law enforcement backgrounds are running or plan to run for various offices around the country.

Gun control groups noted that firearms were the primary driver of the violence.

"This jump in murders is just the latest proof that we are experiencing a gun violence epidemic within the COVID pandemic," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. "This death spiral will continue until we stem the flow of illegal guns and invest in proven intervention programs."

The Uniform Crime Report program is run by the FBI and collects data annually from law enforcement agencies in a number of categories, among them violent crimes, rape, robbery and aggravated assault as well as property crimes. The data is estimated because not all agencies submit information. The FBI said about 85% of the 18,619 law enforcement agencies eligible submitted data in 2020. As a result, the FBI cautions against using its report to rank cities.