Posted on September 27, 2021

Murder Rose by Almost 30% in 2020

Jeff Asher, New York Times, September 22, 2021

The United States in 2020 experienced the biggest rise in murder since the start of national record-keeping in 1960, according to data gathered by the F.B.I. for its annual report on crime.

The Uniform Crime Report will stand as the official word on an unusually grim year, detailing a rise in murder of around 29 percent. The previous largest one-year change was a 12.7 percent increase in 1968. The national rate — murders per 100,000 — still remains about one-third below the rate in the early 1990s.


Here are the main takeaways from the crime data for 2020 as well as the best evidence of where things stand so far in 2021.

The rise in murder was national, not regional

Previously, the largest one-year increase in total number of murders was 1,938 in 1990. The F.B.I. data shows almost 5,000 more murders last year than in 2019, for a total of around 21,500 (still below the particularly violent era of the early 1990s).


About 77 percent of reported murders in 2020 were committed with a firearm, the highest share ever reported, up from 67 percent a decade ago.

The change in murder was widespread — a national phenomenon and not a regional one. Murder rose over 35 percent in cities with populations over 250,000 that reported full data.

It also rose over 40 percent in cities 100,000 to 250,000, and around 25 percent in cities under 25,000.

No geographic area was spared. The F.B.I. reported in March that murder was up at least 20 percent in every region of the country, including around a 30 percent increase in the Midwest. Overall, murder was up at least 20 percent in counties carried by Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well as by Donald J. Trump in 2020.

One regional factor stayed consistent: Louisiana had the highest murder rate for the 32nd straight year.


The evidence on police officer employment had been mixed. An earlier survey of 200 police departments found large increases in retirements between April 2020 and April 2021, while data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed virtually no change in the number of people employed at local police departments.

The new data showed little overall change. But large agencies were substantially more likely than small ones to report a decline in officers. Newark and New York City reported some of the largest percentage declines, with New York dropping by more than 2,500 officers from 2019 to 2020, according to the F.B.I. data.


The evidence from big cities suggests murder is still up in 2021 relative to 2020, although the increase is not nearly as big. My collection of data from 87 cities with publicly available year-to-date data shows murder up by 9.9 percent relative to comparable points in 2020.

Some cities like Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas are seeing big increases relative to last year; some big cities like Chicago and New York are seeing flat numbers after sizable increases in 2020; and some places like St. Louis (which had the nation’s highest murder rate in 2020) are seeing sizable declines.

The first half of this year largely followed the pattern begun in the second half of last year. {snip}