An analysis of FBI crime data shows felony assaults with guns increased during the pandemic in the vast majority of larger communities that track and regularly report incidents to the federal government.
The data come from more than 500 law enforcement agencies, covering populations of 50,000 people or more reporting to the FBI from 2019 to 2021. The agencies examined cover one-fifth of the U.S. population, reports Newsy.com.
Nearly four in five of the agencies reported an increase in the number of felony gun assaults. Increases in gun assaults of 75 percent or higher occurred for about one-third of the agencies reporting to the FBI system, including cities like Austin, Portland, Louisville and Seattle.
In Austin, felony gun assaults increased from 571 incidents in 2019 to 1,128 last year. In Salt Lake City, felony gun assaults nearly doubled in that same time period.
"Gun violence is on the rise and it’s terrible that this is happening," Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said in June, calling for an "all-hands" approach to tamp down a rash of gun crimes. Brown’s plea to bring the city together came after an incident where four people were shot in an apartment complex with families nearby.
"I can’t imagine what it was like for parents at that apartment complex who had children outside playing in the courtyard when bullets began to fly," he said.
In October, the FBI released the 2021 edition of its annual crime report, which for the first time required participating law enforcement agencies to report new details about every individual offense, including specifics about when a weapon was used and what type.
The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), with much more detailed reporting requirements, replaced the prior version of the uniform crime report, which had only required agencies to report total tallies of different crimes.
The large increase in gun assaults stood out among other trends in the agencies studied. Assaults with other weapons like knives or blunt objects largely remained flat, as did assaults with "personal weapons," like hands, fists, and feet.
"The rise in aggravated assaults with a firearm is certainly concerning," said Matthew Longshore, a public information officer for the Aurora, Co., Police Department. In Aurora, felony gun assaults increased from 393 incidents in 2019 to 852 last year.
Longshore said the department put together a special response unit to target the crimes, which he said are often tied to stolen vehicles, He noted that during arrests of car thieves in the city, police had, in several instances, also "recovered multiple guns in the process." Despite the additional efforts, gun assaults are up again in Aurora so far this year, compared to this time last year.
"Anytime you see a short-term increase, you have to pay significant attention," said Alex Piquero, director of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, adding that crime trends during the COVID period differ widely from one community to the next.