Posted on February 7, 2021

Did the BLM Protests Against the Police Lead to the 2020 Spike in Homicides?

Wilfred Reilly, Quillette, January 27, 2021

Serious crime, particularly murder, soared while everyone was supposed to be locked indoors. Between 2019—by no means a famously peaceful year—and 2020, homicides alone surged by 42 percent during the summer and 34 percent during the fall. Many politically acceptable explanations have been advanced for this, with left-leaning publications like Vox preferring to focus on the undeniable economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, an alternative explanation fits the data far better: crime increased because major police departments had their budgets slashed and reeled in their stops dramatically—and similar chaos has followed such “woke” policy moves nearly every time they have been implemented.

The plain fact of the crime surge is a matter of little if any dispute. According to a serious 20-plus page report from the Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (CCCJ), “homicides, aggravated assaults, and gun assaults rose significantly beginning in late May and June of 2020.” As just noted, murder rates jumped more than 30 percent fall-over-fall and more than 40 percent summer-over-summer from 2019 to 2020. Across just the 21 core cities providing data to the CCCJ project, homicides increased by an astounding 610 between the two years. Further, most other serious crimes of violence were up as well: “Aggravated assaults went up by 15 percent in the summer and 13 percent in the fall of 2020; gun assaults increased by 15 percent and 16 percent.”


{snip} One of the most robust findings in social science is that reductions in effective policing correlate with increases in crime. And 2020, a year which included the New York Times running a Sunday op ed headlined “Yes: We Mean Literally Abolish the Police,” featured probably the most consistent and sustained attack on the Boys in Blue in the modern era. In New York City, roughly $1,000,000,000 was slashed from the annual police budget, with much of this money shifted to “youth and social services programs,” according to USA Today. Despite noting that these cuts directly caused the cancellation of a 1,200-person class of new officers, scheduled to enter the Police Academy in August 2020, the USA Today piece pointed out that “many say” they were not large enough.


Along with axe-cuts to police budgets, 2020 also saw significant and measurable declines in police stops. In Minneapolis, which seriously discussed defunding police and slashed the police budget by millionsBloomberg noted that the MPD “has been making an average of 80 percent fewer traffic stops each week since May 25.” May 25th, 2020, was the exact date of George Floyd’s death. In addition to routine automobile stops, stops specifically of suspicious vehicles—defined as those thought to have been involved in a crime—were down 24 percent since the same date. Similarly, suspicious person stops “were down 39 percent since May 25.” The Bloomberg piece pointed out that one obvious explanation for this could be “pullback—police reducing their proactive activity in the wake of public criticism of their performance.” Surely so: and data from Chicago and other cities indicate that Minneapolis officers hardly pulled back alone.

Alongside budget cuts and at least city-wide declines in stops came perhaps the ultimate empirical validation of Broken Windows Theory. BWT, the controversial if oft-validated criminological theory originally proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, argues that visible signs of crime, chaos, and disorder create urban environments that serve as breeding grounds for further and more extreme misbehavior. {snip}


“Common sense” aside, considerable statistical evidence indicates that the chaos-and-pullback explanation for the 2020 American totentanz fits the data better than alternative hypotheses such as our economic downturn. First, the relationship between crime and poverty (if that even is the proper causal direction) is far trickier than often supposed, and rates of serious crime such as murder frequently do not increase during recessions and depressions. During the recent Great Recession, murders totaled 16,422 in 2008, 15,399 in 2009, 14,772 in 2010, and 14,661 in 2011—declining by 1,761 between the start of the crisis and the commonly used end date for it.

Data specific to 2020 provide further support for non-economic explanations for the murder surge. While homicides, aggravated assaults, and gun crimes all increased dramatically, crimes focused purely on obtaining money all decreased in frequency during a heavily locked-down year. The CCCJ authors note that: “Residential burglary, larceny, and drug offense rates dropped by 24 percent, 24 percent, and 32 percent from the same period in 2019.” Perhaps most significantly, crime data is tracked on a monthly as well as annual basis, and—as previously cited Minneapolis figures indicated—the largest 2020 increases in violent crime trace directly to the Riot Summer following the death of George Floyd, rather than to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Again as per the CCCJ report: “Homicides… rose significantly beginning in late May and June of 2020.”