In Greensboro, N.C., the violence has gotten so extreme that a shootout erupted in front of the county courthouse the other day, across the street from the sheriff’s office, leaving a 20-year-old man dead. Greensboro set a city record with 45 homicides last year, and, as of Friday, already had 54 this year.
“We’ve always had a level of gang activity,” Greensboro police Chief Brian James said in an interview, “but it’s more prolific now. I’m not sure what’s changed, but the offenders are more bold than they’ve ever been.”
Homicides across America rose more than 28 percent in the first nine months of this year, and aggravated assaults increased 9 percent, while rapes and robberies saw significant drops compared to the same period last year, according to statistics compiled this month from 223 police agencies by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Police Executive Research Forum, known as PERF.
Some police commanders say the twin impacts of the coronavirus and civil uprisings against police violence caused them to redirect officers away from proactive anti-crime programs, whether due to virus-related budget cuts or strategic redeployment of forces to handle the unrest. Other officials point to job loss and other stresses of the pandemic as fueling tension and leading to violence. And with many schools shuttered, police say, many areas have seen a rise in violence involving juveniles.
Fort Worth, Texas, saw a 66 percent increase in killings in the first nine months of the year, and Boston recorded a 52 percent jump. Cities that experienced tumultuous protests in the wake of police killings saw some of the highest homicide spikes: Minneapolis’ total went from 33 in the first nine months of last year to 61 this year, an 85 percent increase. Louisville, Ky., has seen a 79 percent increase; Portland, Ore., a 68 percent increase; and Milwaukee’s homicides have more than doubled, from 67 to 141, a 110 percent increase.
“We haven’t seen numbers like this since the ’90s,” said PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler. “We’ve had 20 years of steady declines in crime. Is this just an aberration, or does this portend something for the future? This has been under the radar because of the pandemic, but something’s happening across the country in the most serious crimes. The next administration, they’re going to have to pay serious attention to this.”
In the Washington region, the numbers are mostly bad: D.C. police reported homicides up 13 percent in the first nine months of 2020, and Prince George’s County, Md., is up 58 percent, while Montgomery, Md., and Fairfax, Va., counties have also seen increases. But in both the city of Baltimore and Baltimore County, homicides and aggravated assaults have actually declined from the same period last year.