Criminologists and local law-enforcement officials don’t agree on the reasons for the surge in homicides in some places. Some cite stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some point to what they see as frayed relations between law enforcement and Black communities after police killings. Others blame bail reform and moves in some cities to bring fewer prosecutions, reports the Wall Street Journal. Homicides rose by four percent in 22 major cities through the third quarter of 2021, says the think tank the Council on Criminal Justice. The increase is not universal. In Dallas, murders were down 13 percent in 2021 after the city had its highest murder total in more than 15 years in 2020.
A key to driving down the murder rate in Dallas last year was getting police officers re-engaged, said Police Chief Eddie Garcia. “Our police officers nationally have felt unappreciated, they felt under fire,” he said. “That’s led to disengagement in our communities where we need to engage even more.” New mayors were elected in major cities last year with tough-on-crime messages. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a retired police captain, promised to reinstate a plain-clothes anticrime unit that was criticized as being too aggressive in the past. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens promised to hire hundreds of new police officers. “The overarching explanation for the increase in violence over the last two years is the pandemic,” said John Roman of NORC at the University of Chicago. “People who live in places that have high levels of violence were disconnected from anything positive in their lives: School, churches, mentors, counseling, everything.” In Los Angeles, where homicides were up 12 percent through Dec. 25, the pandemic led to a pause in gang intervention and other programs targeting the people most likely to be involved in violent crime. That contributed to an increase in gang shootings. Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri, St. Louis predicted that murder rates will drop back down to pre-pandemic levels in coming years. “Some of the acute conditions that gave rise to the increase we saw last year have begun to subside in many places,” he said.