FBI Data Shows Major Spike In Murders In The U. S. In 2020

September 28, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released its Unified Crime Report for 2020 on Sept. 27, and it showed that the number of homicides increased by 30% from the previous year. There were more than 21,500 homicides reported, a height last reached in the 1990s.

This is the largest single year increase in murders in the years for which the FBI has statistics, stretching back to 1960. Additionally, the murder rate in 2020 was about 6.5 per 100,000 people, about 40% below what it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when homicides peaked in the United States, CNN reported.

The FBI noted that rate of homicides escalated in the summer months, peaking in June and July, and then did not really relent for the rest of the year. The FBI report shows that homicides increased in all geographies, in small towns, suburban areas, and in big cities. Worryingly, at least 77% of these homicides were committed with the firearms. The report also showed that the homicide rate had spiked, even as crimes in other categories did not rise to a similar level. 

“The FBI data is showing an increase everywhere. It’s urban. It’s rural. It’s Democratic. It’s Republican,” Shani Buggs, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies community violence prevention, was quoted as saying by the Guardian. “What I’m hearing on the ground, from folks in New York, Chicago, Oakland, Louisville, St Louis, is that you have mundane issues that are turning lethal because there is so much anger, and rage, and guns available.”

There were other experts who pointed to the Covid-19 pandemic and related stresses as having contributed to this spike in homicides.

“It took one pandemic to unveil another pandemic, a more silent pandemic,” Malik Russell, the director of communications for the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention told the Guardian. “It’s important that the nation as a whole doesn’t miss the forest for the trees, the fact that every year, thousands and thousands of people, disproportionately Black and brown, are being killed on the streets.”

The spread of homicides across the country, according to the report, was also a cause for concern for Jeff Aser, a data consultant who studies crime rates. “In the 90s, New York and Los Angeles accounted for 13.5% of all murders nationally. Last year, it was under 4%,” Asher told NPR. “So it’s a lot more diffuse than it was in the 90s. It was bad everywhere. There’s not a good murder takeaway there.”

The FBI collects crime statistics from law enforcement agencies while putting together this annual report, but it is important to note that agencies are not required to submit data. In 2020, 15,875 agencies out of 18,000 participated, which meant that about 15% did not.

Last year, the FBI began publishing quarterly national crime reports, but this year they are yet to release any quarterly reports. A reason for this is that only 53% of agencies submitted detailed crime information via the NIBRS system. The FBI said they required at least 60% of agencies to participate via the NIBRS system in order to produce quarterly national crime reports.

In 2020, violent crime was up 5.6% from the 2019 number, the FBI said in a release. Property crimes dropped 7.8%, marking the 18th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The UCR Program collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.