The homicide rate across the country rose 30% from 2019 to 2020, marking the highest increase in modern history, according to CDC findings released Wednesday.
Crime statistics have indicated the rise, but the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics group examined public health data, including death certificates, to confirm the increase. The previous largest increase in the U.S. homicide rate was a 20% rise recorded from 2000 to 2001 because of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to the CDC.
“A 30% increase is outstanding, really,” Dr. Robert Anderson, NCHS Chief of Mortality Statistics, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Places that haven’t traditionally had high homicides rates have had increases.”
The CDC’s data was released a week after FBI findings that showed the number of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses across the country increased 29.4% in 2020.
“While their numbers are a little smaller than ours, their data tends to track ours very closely in terms of trends,” Anderson said. “When we saw the numbers we expected that ours would show the same thing.”
In Atlanta, the rise in homicides was even higher. The Atlanta Police Department investigated 157 homicide cases in 2020, up from 99 in 2019 and the most in more than two decades. This week, the city recorded its 122nd homicide, up from the 106 investigated as of Oct. 5, 2020, APD data shows.
“There are a lot of potential reasons why this happening that are related to the pandemic,” Anderson said.
During the spring of 2020, many metro Atlanta agencies reported decreases in crime when coronavirus concerns closed schools and businesses and Gov. Brian Kemp issued a shelter-in-place order. The lull didn’t last, and police agencies throughout the metro area reported an increase in homicides.
Tomeka Pless is grieving her 18-year-old son, shot to death in June 2020. Jalanni Pless was killed while selling water bottles, and his mother said the pandemic stopped kids from their normal activities.
“They’re in survival mood,” Tomeka Pless told the AJC in a recent interview. “They’re doing whatever it takes.”
It wasn’t just Atlanta where violence skyrocketed. FBI data showed a marked increase in Georgia’s violent crime rate, outpacing the U.S. average, although more law enforcement agencies submitted information last year than in 2019.
According to the GBI, the increase in reporting was partly a result of a change in the system for submitting the data. The GBI also reached out to Georgia departments to encourage and help them report.
A recent AJC investigation showed that towns and cities across the state also are grappling with homicide spikes. Spalding County, for instance, saw nine killings in 2020, up from one the prior year.
In Atlanta, the police department and Bottoms continue working to curb the violence.
Meanwhile, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant has said the department remains vigilant in fighting crime. Bryant’s summer goals included targeting the hardest-hit areas, addressing gun violence and gangs, and increasing officers’ presence, he said in June. The department has also used social media to spread the word.
“Put the guns down,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Charles Hampton said during an August news conference. “Let’s just be decent human beings.”