Report: Violent crime rates in major cities dip

Violent crime rates in some major cities declined last year but have yet to recover from a 2020 surge associated with the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic, according to a report released Thursday.

The report by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice examined trends in 35 cities and found that while homicides, gun assaults and reports of domestic violence declined slightly in 2022 compared with the year before, some property crimes have worsened. In some cities, car thefts in particular have spiked, the report found.

Nationwide, crime has been steadily declining for most of the past quarter-century, starting in the early 1990s.

The report from the council, a think tank that focuses on criminal justice issues, examined crime in cities that were selected based on the availability of crime data.

Material in the report was limited somewhat by cities' uneven reporting of crime statistics.

The study found that, on average, the number of murders declined 4% between 2021 and 2022 -- a decrease of 242 homicides in 27 cities that reported data -- though that rate remained 34% higher than it was in 2019. Still, the report notes, the total number of homicides in those cities was about half as high as it was during the historical peaks, which occurred in 1980 and 1991.

Thirteen cities reported increases in homicides from 2021 to 2022, ranging from Houston, which reported a marginal increase of less than 1%, to Raleigh, N.C., which reported a 48% increase. By contrast, 14 cities either had no change or had reductions in homicides.

They include St. Louis, where murder rates were unchanged, and Richmond, Va., which saw a 40% reduction.

Little Rock was not one of the cities covered by the study, but data from Little Rock police showed 81 homicides in 2022 compared to 65 the year before, marking a 25% increase. The death toll set in 2022 surpassed Little Rock's deadliest year on record, 1993, when police in the city investigated 76 homicides.

North Little Rock police investigated 23 homicides in 2022, the same number as in 2021. That city's deadliest year on record was 1990, when 27 people died by homicide.

The report found that, on average, robberies increased 5.5% in 2022 over 2021, nonresidential burglaries increased 11%, and larcenies increased 8%. However, each of those crime rates remained lower than they were in 2019.

"In no case did we find crime rates returning to pre-pandemic 2019 levels," said Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and lead author of the report. "Violent crimes still remain above those levels, and the property crimes, despite the increase, continue to remain below those levels."

Motor vehicle thefts surged by 59% from 2019 to 2022, and by 21% from 2021 to 2022, the report found. In eight cities, vehicle thefts more than doubled, including in Norfolk, Va.

Little Rock and North Little Rock police officials said both agencies began using the new FBI crime reporting system years ago, so the 2021 changeover should not have any effect on the data they report.

Other violent crimes were up slightly in 2022 compared to the year before, the data showed, with rape rising 5% and robbery up 8%. However, aggravated assaults -- the largest violent crime category by the numbers -- dropped 13% in 2022.

Because of the way Little Rock police report violent crime -- comparing the total number of incidents year to year -- the drop in aggravated assaults resulted in an overall 10% decrease in incidents of violent crime from 2021 to 2022, despite the rises in all other types of violent crime.

The city's newly appointed police Chief Heath Helton said the decrease in aggravated assaults, which were up during the first two years of the covid-19 pandemic, was unusual and he wasn't sure what to attribute it to.

The decrease may be the result of a heightened level of aggravated assault in 2021, as the number of reported incidents in 2022 was still higher by 24% than the total reported in 2019.

Property crime in Little Rock remained roughly flat from 2021 to 2022, the data showed. A 2% decrease in burglaries and breaking-and-entering incidents was offset by a 1% increase in larceny and theft while no change was reported in motor vehicle theft.

Overall, the data showed a 15% decrease in total incidents of crime, both property and violent, from 2012 to 2022. That change appeared largely driven by a 25% decrease in property crime, while violent crime went up by 31% during the 10-year period.

Information for this article was contributed by Eliza Fawcett and Jacey Fortin of The New York Times and by Grant Lancaster of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.