- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2022

Homicide rates dipped in 2022, but violent crimes such as rape, robbery and assault remained dramatically higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, The Washington Times found in a review of data from police departments across the country.

Through the final week of December, violent crime in Chicago soared 41% from the same period a year earlier, though homicides declined 14%. In New York City, overall violent crime increased by 23% from 2021 but homicides dropped by 13%. Violent crime in Los Angeles jumped 8% while homicides dropped by roughly 6%.

Studies by police and law enforcement organizations reached similar conclusions.

The Council on Criminal Justice’s midyear 2022 crime report, released in September, found that the homicide rate in 29 U.S. cities dipped by 2% through the first six months of the year from the same period in 2021. Aggravated assaults and robberies increased by 4% and 19%, respectively.

A Major Cities Chiefs Association survey of 70 U.S. law enforcement agencies found that homicides dropped by 2% through the first six months of 2022 but violent crime increased by 4.4%. Robberies were up by 13%, and aggravated assaults increased by 3%.

Police officers and criminal justice specialists say there is no single reason for the rise in violent crime. They point to several factors, including police departments trying to make do with fewer officers, soft-on-crime prosecutors and societal stressors such as the economy.

“We are just in an increasingly violent society, and when you combine that with a lack of law enforcement officers and fewer prosecutions in many areas, we have this terrible, perfect storm of things happening,” said Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Police Association. 

Police officers are leaving departments in droves because of low morale, increased scrutiny of their work and political rhetoric against law enforcement. Departments are struggling to keep the officers they have and attract recruits. During the retention crisis, many of the same cities are grappling with crime surges.

Because of the exodus, police departments have had to prioritize homicides, rapes and other serious crimes. Fewer officers are available to investigate robberies, burglaries and assaults. In some cities, officers aren’t responding at all and instead are requiring victims to fill out police reports online.

The Philadelphia Police Department has 5,983 uniformed officers, a 10% decrease from 6,590 in 2019, according to city data. The city’s office of the comptroller estimates that the number of officers could drop 13% more by the end of 2025. Property crimes in Philadelphia have increased by nearly 30%.

Through the last week of December, reports of robberies with guns were up 22% compared with the same period the previous year. Other types of robberies were up roughly 12%. Overall, violent crime increased by roughly 2% but homicides dropped by about 9%. Lower-level property crimes increased by more than 29%.

The New York Police Department was on pace for more than 4,000 officers to walk off the job in 2022, the most since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That was roughly a 42% increase from the number of officers who left the department in 2021.

Robberies in the city are up by 26% and felony assaults have surged by 13%, contributing to a roughly 23% increase in violent crime despite the drop in the homicide rate.

The San Diego Association of Governments reported that violent crime in 2022, including aggravated assault, reached its highest level since 2012 and marked a 2% increase from the previous year. At the same time, more than 230 police officers left the department, a 52% increase from 2021 and the most in more than a decade.

“There is an increase in thefts, assaults and other crimes because police are not responding to these calls with the same capability or concern they once had because they have to focus on rapes, robberies and other high-profile crimes,” said Jack Rinchich, president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

Mr. Rinchich said he understands that limited resources constrain officers’ abilities to respond to less-serious crimes, but he added that enforcing laws against misdemeanors and other low-level offenses helps keep a lid on more serious crimes.

“I would always focus my efforts on these lesser crimes, and it would lead me to bigger crimes. If you take a little time to get extra evidence or an extra witness with these smaller crimes, it will pay off in solving a major crime,” he said.

Marc Levin, chief policy counsel for the Council on Criminal Justice, estimates that the number of assaults is much higher than police data reveals. He said assaults in which people know each other, such as domestic violence cases or street brawls, often go unreported.

“Reporting of assaults is a big issue, especially with people who know each other. Homicides are different because there is a body found at some point, but if no one calls in an assault, the police don’t know about it,” he said.

Analysts also point to soaring inflation, which hit a 40-year high in 2022, as another reason for the surge in violent crime. High prices brought on by government splurging, tight supply chains and the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent consumers to the black market for consumer goods, spurring assaults, robberies and shoplifting.  

A report from the National Retail Foundation found that the industry lost $94.5 billion to shoplifting. Retailers, on average, reported a 26.5% increase in crime, the report said.

The impact of inflation extends beyond shoplifting and into violent crime.

In 2019, researchers at the University of St. Louis analyzed inflation rates in 17 U.S. cities over 53 years and found it was associated with increased rates of homicide and violent crime. The link was stronger in disadvantaged communities.

A separate study by criminologist Richard Rosenfeld found that inflation had a significant impact on homicide, robbery and burglary rates in European and U.S. cities.

Criminologists and police say American society is becoming more violent in general, on par with a peak in the early 1990s. They are at a loss, however, to explain the violence surge.

“It does seem like we are a more violent society and we are returning to the way things were in the 1990s,” Ms. Brantner Smith said. “There is just a lack of respect for life. You are seeing people shoved and beaten. There are a lot more strangers attacking strangers.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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