Posted on January 7, 2022

Murders in U.S. Cities Were Near Record Highs in 2021

Zusha Elinson, Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2022

U.S. cities are facing a sustained surge in homicides, as police departments and mayors’ offices tally up crime statistics for 2021 and launch 2022 programs designed to curb gun violence.

Several cities set new records for murders last year. Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., Louisville, Ky., and Albuquerque, N.M., had their deadliest years on record. Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city, had 562 homicides surpassing its previous high of 500 set in 1990.

Criminologists and local law-enforcement officials don’t agree on the reasons for the surge in violent crime. 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, such as that of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Others blame bail reform and moves in some cities to bring fewer prosecutions.

Homicides rose by 4% in 22 major American cities through the third quarter of 2021, according to a study by the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank focusing on criminal-justice policy and research.

The rise followed one of the most violent years in decades. In 2020, murders in the U.S. rose nearly 30% from the prior year to 21,570, the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The rate of 6.5 per 100,000 residents was the highest since 1997 but still below historic highs of the early 1990s. The total was estimated based on 85% of the nation’s 18,623 law-enforcement agencies submitting crime data.

The FBI breaks down the victims by race and ethnicity, though its numbers are incomplete. In 2020, at least 9,941 were Black, 7,043 were white, 511 were of other races and 320 were unknown, according to the FBI. By ethnicity, 2,851 were Hispanic, according to the data.

While elevated, the increase in the murder rate slowed in some cities. New York City, which recorded a nearly 45% increase in 2020, had a 4% murder rise through Dec. 26, 2021, when compared with the same period the prior year. Chicago, which had a 55% increase in 2020, had a 3% rise in 2021.


New mayors were elected in major cities last year with tough-on-crime messages. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a retired New York Police Department 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.

In Minneapolis, the birthplace of the movement to defund the police, residents voted down a measure to replace the city’s Police Department amid rising crime.


In Los Angeles, where homicides were up 12% 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 {snip}


Some law-enforcement officials say that a police pullback has been a factor, too, in cities like Portland, Ore. The city’s 90 homicides surpassed an all-time high of 70 in 1987. Portland, which has had sustained late-night street violence downtown, struggled in 2021 to find enough cops willing to join a police unit focused on fighting gun violence. Officers said they were reluctant to sign up for the once-prestigious job due to increased public scrutiny {snip}

In other cities, police officials blamed bail-reform measures for not keeping more criminals behind bars. {snip}