The Covid-19 pandemic has been used to excuse rising violent crime in cities across the country. But a critical look at how drastically crime rose during 2020, its continued rise, and the policy choices of municipal leadership in those cities shows that the pandemic was an amplifier, but not the original cause of skyrocketing crime. 

By the end of 2020, Seattle had topped the chart with a 74% rise in murder. Chicago erased years of hard-earned progress with a 55% increase of homicides compared to 2019. Riot torn Portland saw a 51% jump in murders, Boston 54%, Washington 20%, San Francisco, 32%, Los Angeles 30%, and New York nearly 40% more than the previous year.  

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Here in Philadelphia, we’ve had one of the worst annual rates of violent crime in over 30 years. With an official tally of 499 homicides in 2020, 40% more people were killed last year than 2019. In fact, 2020 was the second deadliest year in the Philadelphia’s history – just one homicide shy of 1990 when 500 people were killed. 

Invariably, elected leaders in these cities have attempted to push blame for the unchecked crime happening under their watch onto Covid-19. But research shows that the choices of elected leaders, not just the virus, created an environment where crime could fester. The draconian lockdown policies of 2020 served to exacerbate the problems already being caused by  radical criminal justice reform policies implemented by far-left prosecutors. 

Jessica H. Beard, assistant professor of surgery and director of trauma research at Temple’s medical school, and a team of researchers examined the scale and causes of the problem in Philadelphia. Their study looked at Philadelphia Police data for shooting victims for the past five years and found that the number of people shot each week spiked immediately after the shutdown was implemented. Before March 16, 2020, when stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns began to be implemented, the city had averaged 25 shootings per week. That number jumped to 46 people per week through November. 

Our research shows that the measures put in place to contain the pandemic for health and safety reasons had a significant and sustained association with increased firearm violence in the city.

“In the city of Philadelphia, shootings are often geographically concentrated in lower-income communities,” Beard said. “Our research shows that the measures put in place to contain the pandemic for health and safety reasons had a significant and sustained association with increased firearm violence in the city.”

The research team also took other major events from 2020 into account in an attempt to spot other trends, including the unrest after the killing of George Floyd. However, both the Temple researchers focusing on Philadelphia and researchers fromPrinceton University, who took a broader view, found little correlation to other variables. According to the Princeton study, 75 of the 100 largest U.S. cities had experienced the highest rates of gun violence between January and March 2020, before the killing of Floyd.

While Beard’s study draws a clear line between the pandemic restrictions and gun violence in Philadelphia, it cannot account for the upward trajectory of violent crime in other cities or in Philadelphia after the wind down of pandemic restrictions. This fact gives credence to the proposition that the pandemic and the policies implemented in reaction to it served as a magnifying glass on ill-conceived criminal justice policies already in place. 

The question now is, will citizens realize that the pandemic didn’t cause the increase in crime they are seeing on their streets, it only served to worsen a pre-existing problem?

The pandemic hit the entire globe, yet the most alarming increases in violent crime occurred in jurisdictions where, from 2016 to 2019, local policies restricting bail and second guessing community law enforcement officers were implemented. These changes, when coupled with Covid-19 restrictions ordering extended closures of schools, courts, and the release of inmates from jails, resulted in a recipe for disaster.   

The question now is, will citizens realize that the pandemic didn’t cause the increase in crime they are seeing on their streets, it only served to worsen a pre-existing problem?  If they don’t, municipal leaders in Philadelphia and beyond will continue to use Covid-19 as an excuse for why they have no plan for how to restore peace to our communities. 

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

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