The nation is seeing an increase in homicides. In fact, the U.S. annual homicide rate has hit a 60-year high. As of September, Houston alone had already experienced 346 homicides in 2021. This was a 28 percent increase from 2020 and a 74 percent increase from 2019.
Experts suggest that COVID-19 is to blame for part of this increase, but more research needs to be completed to pinpoint the other contributing factors.
According to Elizabeth Gilmore, an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Houston-Downtown, “financial strain and mental health and COVID-related factors” may be attributed to some of the increase in homicides.
Moreover, Gilmore suggests that it will take time to fix the situation. While she feels that action should be taken to reduce the number of homicides, there is “no singular agency or entity or legislative bill can be responsible for a transformative fix.”
Mike Knox, a council member for the city of Houston, agrees with Gilmore and further states that the police department alone won’t solve Houston’s homicide problem.
According to Knox:
“It’s the court system, it’s the DA’s office. It’s the community at large working together with law enforcement to control crime.”
Houston is not alone
What’s more, this increase in homicides isn’t just a Houston issue. The rate of homicides has increased across many of the biggest cities in the U.S.
Through September 26, 2021, there have been 404 homicides, which is an increase of 18.7 percent. In Los Angeles, there has been an increase of 21.5 percent in homicides in the last year. There have been 288 homicides in the city through September 22, 2021. Likewise, Chicago has also seen an increase in homicides. There have been 602 homicides through September 26, 2021, which is a 4 percent increase.
FBI statistics also show that in 2020 there was a 30 percent increase in the national murder rate. This is the biggest jump the U.S. has seen in 6 decades. Across the U.S. in 2020, there was an increase of 5,000 murders. Even as murders increased, other crimes—including property crimes, rape and robberies—all fell.
Murders aren’t only increasing in big cities, though. Small towns and suburban areas have also seen an increase.
While the police alone won’t be able to solve Houston’s record homicide rate, law enforcement will play an important and prevalent role. That said, certain controversial police practices, like stop-and-frisk and low-level offense arrests, don’t have to be a part of the solution.
While there is evidence that having a strong police presence can lead to fewer homicides, there is also evidence that this can lead to more arrests because there are more opportunities for people to be arrested—whether or not they are guilty or innocent.
If there is any truth to the idea that increased police presence can lead to more accidental arrests, it goes to say that having access to experienced and skilled defense attorneys is essential.