Elections & Government
Violent crime was up 3.3% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to preliminary data from the FBI’s quarterly Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system. This includes a 25% increase in the homicide rate. The recent uptick in violent crime is a change from more than 30 years of decreases in property and violent crime. Data shows crime spiked across all categories in the early 1990s and have steadily decreased since with few exceptions. Meanwhile, property crime decreased by 7.9% in 2020.
The FBI UCR database contains reports from about 70% of US law enforcement agencies, ranging from urban to rural areas and across geographic regions. The UCR includes law enforcement agencies of all levels, including city, county, state, tribal, and federal agencies. Large cities might overlap between multiple law enforcement agencies with each reporting data to the FBI. The finalized 2020 data will be available this fall.
Law enforcement agencies reported almost 1.3 million violent crimes in 2020, a rate of about 390 per 100,000 people. Violent crime reached a peak in 1992 with almost 2 million offenses reported, or a rate of 750 per 100,0000. Most of the decreases came from drops in aggravated assaults and robberies, which are almost 90% of violent crime in the US.
Violent crime increased the most in the Midwest and the South, rising by over 5%. Cities with a population larger than 500,000 saw bigger violent crime increases than smaller areas. The smallest category of cities — with a population under 10,000 — is the only category in which violent crime decreased, falling by 5.2% in 2020.
The UCR divides violent crime into four categories: homicide (including murder and non-negligent manslaughter), rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Aggravated assaults is the largest category, comprising 66% of violent crimes. In 2020, aggravated assaults rose by 10.5%, driving the uptick in the violent crime rate. Aggravated assaults rose for all population groups except cities with fewer than 10,000 people. Homicides rose across all population groups last year.
Any change in the homicide rate gets attention due to the severity of the crime. But homicides make up about 1% of all violent crime in UCR data. Even when the rate of homicides increases, it has little effect on the violent crime or overall crime rate.
Homicides increased by about 25% in 2020. There were 20,480 homicides last year compared to 16,424 in 2019. Last year’s increase was the biggest single year jump since 2015, when homicides rose by 12%. Despite the 2020 increase, homicides were 3% lower than in the 1990s.
Homicide rates increased in cities of all sizes. The largest percent increase occurred in the biggest cities. In Los Angeles, homicides increased from 258 to 351 in the past year, a 36% jump. Rural areas were not exempt from the rise in homicides. Homicide rates in cities of 10,000 people or less increased by 25% last year, though the total number of homicides were still small compared to larger areas.
Despite the increase in violent crime, property crime decreased, leading to a lower overall 2020 crime rate compared to 2019. Property crime decreased 7.9% in 2020, the largest percent reduction in the past five years. Like violent crime, property crime hit a peak in the early 1990s but decreased steadily over the past three decades.
The UCR also divides property crime into four categories — burglary (which involves breaking-and-entering), larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Larceny makes up about 80% of all property crime and 60% of all crime in the UCR. Crime for this category decreased by 10.5% in 2020, driving the property and overall crime rates down.
Property crime rates decreased across all regions and city sizes. Cities with populations under 10,000 had the largest percent decrease: 14%. The Midwest and the South regions had the largest decreases, both down about 9%. The two largest property crime categories, larceny and burglary, were down across all regions and city sizes. Motor vehicle theft and arson were up across all regions and city sizes but are less than 10% of all property crime.
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