Don’t Blame Pandemic for Rise in U.S. Violent Crime

by Hans Bader

Recent spikes in violent crime aren’t due to COVID-19 or the economy, as suggested recently in a Virginian-Pilot article exploring causes of a spike in violence in Hampton Roads.

Murders frequently fall during recessions and times of economic hardship. In the U.S. homicides fell during the 2007-2009 recession. In many other countries, murder rates actually went down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, the murder rate fell in London by 16% in 2020, even though England suffered more from the pandemic than America did. England suffered far more economic harm than America did, with England’s economy shrinking 9.9% during 2020, compared to 3.5% in America. As Nicole Gelinas notes in the New York Post, murders also fell in other major countries in 2020:

How about Italy, hit hard and early by the pandemic? There, murders fell by 14%, to 271 from 315.

France with its troubled banlieues? The country’s murders were down 2% in 2020, to 863.

Japan? The murder level was the lowest it has been since World War II. “Heinous crimes,” including murder, fell by 10%.

What about cartel-ridden Mexico? There, murders fell by slightly less than half a percent last year, to 34,523 — the first decline in six years.

Shootings did indeed rise 97% in 2020 in New York City, and gun violence has continued to rise in 2021. (In Virginia, murders increased 24% to 528 in 2020 — Editor).

If the pandemic isn’t causing the increase in violence, what is? These crime spikes coincidw with new soft-on-crime policies. For example, newly-elected progressive prosecutors are refusing to seek enhanced sentences for repeat violent offenders, and refusing to seek life without parole for murderers (even serial killers), which they view as too harsh. The murder rate rose 30% last year in America’s major cities, after the number of people in America’s prisons and jails dropped by 14% from 2019 to mid-2020.

Moreover, recently, there has been “a notable decline in the number of police on the beat,” notes Rafael Mangual of the Manhattan Institute:

In a September 2019 report, the Police Executive Research Forum outlined what it declared a “workforce crisis.” A robust body of research has thoroughly illustrated that more police means less crime — a finding at odds with ever-more-popular calls to “defund the police.” It stands to reason that a significant decline in the sizes of the nation’s police forces could have helped set the stage for the violent crime uptick. There is also reason to believe that — in part because of the anti-police sentiments that characterized last summer’s protests — the cops we have left became less proactive.

Recent policies have reduced the risk of being punished for committing crimes, and freed many criminals to commit more crimes:

Examples include the expansion of pretrial release through new restrictions on cash bail; the election of so-called “progressive” prosecutors — many of whom have, among other things, diverted or declined to prosecute more cases and used their offices to reduce sentences by refusing to pursue certain kinds of enhancements; the decriminalization of certain “quality of life” offenses; new restrictions on prosecutions of juveniles; [and] the elimination of some mandatory minimum sentences.

By contrast, murders are not linked to the poverty rate, notes Mangual: “In New York, for example, the poverty rate in 1989 — the year before homicides hit a record-high 2,262 — was actually slightly lower than it was in 2016, the year before Big Apple homicides hit a record-low 292. And during the Great Recession, the national homicide rate actually declined by 15%, going from 5.7 per 100,000 in 2007 to 4.8 per 100,000 in 2010 — a period in which the civilian unemployment rate rose from 4.6 to 9.3 percent.”

In Seattle, where the murder rate rose 74% in 2020, city council member Lisa Herbold claimed that “cities have crime spikes” because “people are desperate” due to the pandemic. But Seattle is one of America’s richest cities, where almost everyone had enough to eat. Peoples’ situation was far more desperate in Latin America, where the pandemic left many people without adequate food, yet murder did not increase in many Latin American nations. Murder rates fell in 2020 in Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, and El Salvador — all countries where malnutrition is widespread. Each of these countries’ economies shrank during the pandemic.

When criminals serve less time, crime rates tend to rise. Murder rates rose in the 1970s as murderers spent less time in prison.

Conversely, violent crimes fell in California as a result of Proposition 8. It increased prison sentences for repeat offenders who commit willful homicide, rape, and robbery with a gun. That didn’t just keep violent criminals in jail where they couldn’t commit more crimes. It also deterred people outside of prison from committing crimes, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

Many murderers are spending less time in prison, due to “criminal justice reform.” More became eligible for parole due to recent state laws. California expanded parole for adults who committed murder before age 25, in late 2017. Last year, Washington, D.C.’s city council made murderers eligible to seek release after 15 years, if they committed their crime before age 25.

Two years ago, Washington State’s supreme court declared it unconstitutional to give 16- or 17-year-old murderers life sentences without the possibility of parole. It ruled in favor of a teen who murdered his parents and drowned his brother in a bathtub. In 2020, it struck down mandatory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders, even when they receive far less than a life sentence. Shootings rose substantially in 2020 and again in 2021 in King County, Washington State’s most populous county.

In places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, progressive district attorneys have recently refused to prosecute any minors — even murderers — in adult court. So murderers who commit their crimes at age 16 or 17 will not be locked up for more than a few years, even if they are serial killers. Shootings rose 73% in Los Angeles in the first four months of 2021, after posting a 40% increase in 2020. Killings rose 35% in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2020.

By releasing violent criminals earlier, these “reforms” could result in more killings of innocent people. Murder rates peak in the late teens and early 20s. About four in ten killers commit their crime before age 25. A tenth of all murders have historically been committed by juveniles, and once released, juvenile killers often commit more violent crimes, including more murders.

Hans Bader is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This column was published originally at

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35 responses to “Don’t Blame Pandemic for Rise in U.S. Violent Crime”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    I don’t. I blame Evangelicals.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    It is definitely the rise of white supremacy. Joe Biden has convinced me.
    It’s amazing how these brash white supremacists are going into cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and St Louis and killing people of color with impunity.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Mr. Bader’s one source contends that crime goes down during recessions. Other researchers claim otherwise. The connection between economic conditions and crime is not a clear one. Generally, crime goes up in hard times. However, during the Great Recession of 2016, that did not happen. Criminologists are trying to figure out why.

    In raising the alarm about violent crime, Bader ignores a salient fact: all crime has been decreasing over the past 20 years or so.

    To explain the recent increase in violent crime in some cities, the trots out the conservative boogeyman: soft on crime policies. In the first place, even if these policies actually do result in, or encourage, increased criminal activity, they are too new to have much of an impact at this point. Secondly, the past year could have been a blip, an exception in the general trend downward. It is too early to start blaming certain policies just because one is ideologically opposed to them.

    1. Scott McPhail Avatar
      Scott McPhail

      “It is too early to start blaming certain policies just because one is ideologically opposed to them.”

      And exactly how many years does one wait?

      And I can’t help but notice that your “violent crime decreasing over the last 20 some years” stats just happen to measure from the peak?

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        It will take 2-3 years at least before there is enough data available to know if 2020 was an anomaly or the beginning of a new trend.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      “However, during the Great Recession of 2016, that did not happen.”

      The Great Recession of 2016 …”?

      2016 seemed like a good economic year to me.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Oops! Had a brain fart there. I meant the Great Recession of 2008.

    3. Anonymous Avatar

      Great Recession of 2016? Homicides in the US have been trending upwards since 2014, when the first BLM protests happened. I am sure to you it is just a coincidence. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his ideology depends on not understanding it.

  4. tmtfairfax Avatar

    I see that a former NYCPD officer is leading in the Democratic Party primary for mayor. And that he ran well ahead of the others, including AOC’s radical candidate in the outer boroughs, most especially in The Bronx. Maybe woke whites’ beliefs are not consistent with all the blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups in NYC.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    The murder rate in the US is about 5+ per 100,000 or someplace around 16,000 to 17,000 per year.

    The police clear between 1/3 and 1/2 of these, so between 5,000 and 8,000 are solved.

    The police kill about 1,000 per year.

    Is it really worth it?

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Yes, it is.

    2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
      Baconator with extra cheese

      I’m all for localities getting rid of police.
      Richmond, Portsmouth, or Petersburg should be bold and put it to a test.
      I’m almost positive the utopias will flourish!
      But we will see this year as schools are going back full swing, kids have more than likely slid back years in reading/ math, pot is legal (underage is a max $25 fine), and some school districts removed the slave catchers from the schools.
      The schools will most definitely turn into utopias of education with scores of future Nobel laureates.

  6. Bob X from Texas Avatar
    Bob X from Texas

    People have the mistaken idea that felons only commit felonies a few time a month or a few times a year. In reality many felons commit multiple felonies everyday, hundreds per year. When undercover anti-crime squads follow felons, they often record them doing multiple felonies everyday before they bust them. Keeping felons in jail for long sentences dramatically reduces the crime rate.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I have looked for some research to confirm the claim that “many felons commit multiple felonies everyday, hundreds per year.” I could not find any. Please let me know your source for this claim.

      1. Bob X from Texas Avatar
        Bob X from Texas

        I’m a former LEO. Next time you see a policeman at a coffee shop, buy him a donut and ask him how many thefts the average thief commits before they are put in jail and how many drug transactions a drug pusher makes before he is put in jail. Most cops know the bad actors doing crime in their areas of operation. Proving their guilt and putting them in jail is the hard part.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I could believe that professional house burglers might commit multiple robberies on a given day, but not daily — the same for auto theft. But you really stretch it with cops trailing them about while they do multiple B&Es and thefts. They certainly wouldn’t allow multiple crimes against persons.

      You watch too many movies.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Lemme see, 2020 saw record gun sales, and background checks. Wonder if 22 million more guns has anything, even remotely, to do with it?

    1. Matt Hurt Avatar
      Matt Hurt

      I don’t think that explains it. Firearms sales (as indicated by NICs background checks) have consistently increased almost every year since 1999 (the earliest year I can find the data). If I’m not mistaken, the murder rate has declined during that same period of time, except for 2020. That means that from 1999 to 2019 that there was an inverse relationship between the sales of guns and the murder rate, if I’m interpreting that correctly. In this context, 2020 is the outlier.

      It’s also important to note that the background check statistics do not necessarily relate one to one with gun sales. One background check can cover multiple firearms purchased at the same time.

      1. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        I think it’s also safe to state that most firearms used in crimes were not acquired by legal means. Obviously there are some exceptions, but overall it’s not the rule.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        And a background denial can result in a “personal” or “ghost” sale. I think I heard that denials hit the record too.

        1. Matt Hurt Avatar
          Matt Hurt

          Yes sir, because we don’t prosecute those folks for some odd reason.

      3. WayneS Avatar

        “One background check can cover multiple firearms purchased at the same time.”

        Never mind. I should have read it more carefully…

        Although each firearm purchased during a transaction must be listed on the form, so the data on numbers of sales is most likely accurate.

        Also, the FBI data provide the total number of background checks performed. Not all of these checks resulted in approval for purchase.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          In 2020 about 42% of the record 300,000 denials were because the would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records.

          1. tmtfairfax Avatar

            And why not prosecute those people who despite having felony convictions on their records, tried to buy guns?

            The old saying about abortion was “If you don’t like, don’t have one.” The logic applies the same to firearms. “If you don’t like guns, don’t have one.”

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Who said they lied? Maybe they said, “Well, aside from that little dust up at the bank….”
            This is a read you might like…

            I especially liked
            5. State Prohibitor: 97,179
            Many states have their own additional categories of prohibited purchasers that they report to the NICS. South Carolina, for example, denies the right to own a gun to anyone known to abuse alcohol. The federal government has no such disqualifier, despite alcohol being the substance known to be most associated with gun violence.

            God bless ’em. South Carolina. Who’da thunk it?

          3. WayneS Avatar

            Yes. And despite the fact that lying on the background check form is s federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, very few of those +/-126,000 people were prosecuted.

            If the government is not going to enforce the gun laws they already have on the books, why should we allow them to pass new gun laws?

          4. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            Heck I don’t even think they enforce the mandatory minimum sentences for using a firearm in the commission of a crime.

            5, 7, 10 and 30 years accordingly.

      4. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Murder is kind of a lousy thing to look at on the whole anyway. Armed robberies involving guns would be better. After all, if you are murdered, it’s likely the person who sits next to you at the kitchen table what done it. Don’t you watch “Forensic Files”?

        As for the legality of the gun used in the murder, if you are shot by someone who lives in the same house with the gun, does it matter if the gun was legally obtained, or not?

        As Archie Bunker famously said, “If dey trew dem out the window would that makes you feel better about it, little goil?” (apologies to Brooklyn)

        1. Matt Hurt Avatar
          Matt Hurt

          No sir, I have enough drama in my life without importing more from the TV.

  8. Paul Berevoescu Avatar
    Paul Berevoescu


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