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Amid Murder Decline, Violent Crime Higher Than Before Pandemic

Crime rates in the U.S. are largely returning to pre-COVID levels as the nation distances itself from the pandemic, but there are notable exceptions, concludes a new report from the think tank Council on Criminal Justice.

While decreases in homicide are promising, the progress is uneven and other sources of crime information, including household surveys of violent victimization, indicate higher rates and more pronounced shifts than reports to law enforcement agencies.

The council's report looks at monthly rates at which 12 offenses are reported to law enforcement in 38 cities, which are not necessarily representative of all cities.

The number of homicides in the 32 cities providing data was 10% lower—representing 515 fewer homicides—in 2023 than in 2022.

There were 3% fewer reported aggravated assaults in 2023 than in 2022 and 7% fewer gun assaults in 11 reporting cities. Reported carjacking incidents fell by 5% in 10 reporting cities but robberies and domestic violence incidents each rose 2%.

Reports of residential burglaries (-3%), nonresidential burglaries (-7%), and larcenies (-4%) all decreased in 2023. The number of drug offenses increased by 4%.

Motor vehicle theft, a crime that has been on the rise since the summer of 2020, continued its upward trajectory There were 29% more reported motor vehicle thefts in 2023 than in 2022.  Motor vehicle theft is considered a “keystone” crime because stolen vehicles are often used in the commission of a robbery, drive-by shooting, or other violent offense.

Most violent offenses remained elevated in 2023 compared to 2019, the year prior to the outbreak of COVID and the widespread social unrest of 2020. There were 18% more homicides in the study cities in 2023 than in 2019, and carjacking has spiked by 93% during that period.

Property crime trends have been more mixed. There were fewer residential burglaries and larcenies and more nonresidential burglaries in 2023 than in 2019. Motor vehicle thefts more than doubled (+105%) during this time frame, while drug crimes fell by 27%.

The council said the variance in trends requires leaders to shift attention from broad national explanations to local factors. It is essential to identify what’s driving crime in local communities and what law enforcement and community interventions, as well as other efforts and forces, may be having an impact.

Even in cities where homicide has returned to pre-2020 levels, it is still intolerably high, the council said, with some 20,000 lives lost to intentional violence last year.

“Big social and economic forces appear to have been behind the sharp trends that began in 2020, but now there is considerable variation between cities and crime types that suggests local factors are becoming more significant,” said council president Adam Gelb.

“City, state, and federal officials and communities have implemented a wide array of crime prevention strategies over the past few years. It’s time now for leaders to compare what’s happening in their communities with the broader trends and critically examine what may or may not be paying off.”


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