Boston, seen here on Dec. 29, 2021, is among the U.S. cities where murder rates fell in 2021, countering the national trend. The homicide rate fell 28% in Boston for the year, and declined by double-digit rates in a number of other cities including Miami, Dallas, and Seattle.

  • By Noah Robertson
    Staff writer
  • Jacob Turcotte
    Graphics editor

Despite a second straight year of rising homicides in 2021, last year’s violent crime data show some reasons for hope. 

First, even though the homicide rate rose again, it slowed down. During the first three quarters of 2020, there was a 30% year-on increase in the homicide rate, according to research from the Council on Criminal Justice. In the same period last year, it rose only 4%.

Second, that rise hasn’t been uniform. Homicides rose in almost every major city in 2020 – as gun deaths hit an all-time high – but that wasn’t true in 2021. Some cities – like Portland, Oregon; and Albuquerque, New Mexico – still had major increases. But others, like Boston and Dallas, had major dips.

Why We Wrote This

Declining homicide rates in some U.S. cities hint at hope amid concern about a jump in violent crime. The reasons may range from improved policing to an easing of pandemic stresses on society.

That’s reason for optimism, says Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Nationally, he says, it suggests that the trends driving up violent crime  – like the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest – have started to wane. 

“What, generally speaking, we’re seeing in most but perhaps not all places is an unraveling of some of the conditions that gave rise to the increase in ’20,” says Professor Rosenfeld. 

Beyond that, numbers that vary city by city tend to have city-by-city explanations. Improved policing seems to be the answer in some cities, and community-based interventions may also be playing a role, though their effect is less certain. 

Despite the overall rise since 2019, America’s homicide rate is still far below the violent crime peaks of the 1990s. A more nuanced national picture in 2021, says Professor Rosenfeld, may suggest future increases aren’t inevitable. 

“I think it is good news,” he says.

SOURCE: AH Datalytics, FBI


Jacob Turcotte and Noah Robertson/Staff

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