Recently major cities across the country have suffered dramatic spikes in homicides. These spikes are remarkably large, suddenly appearing, and widespread. At this rate, 2020 will easily be the deadliest year in America for gun-related homicides since at least 1999, while most other major crime categories are trending stable or slightly downward.
This article attempts to explain why so many cities have seen extraordinary increases in murder during the summer of 2020. A close analysis of the emerging crime patterns suggests that American cities may be witnessing significant declines in some forms of policing, which in turn is producing the homicide spikes. Crime rates are increasing only for a few specific categories—namely homicides and shootings. These crime categories are particularly responsive to reductions in proactive policing. The data also pinpoint the timing of the spikes to late May 2020, which corresponds with the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis and subsequent anti-police protests—protests that likely led to declines in law enforcement.
The thesis of this article is that the recent spikes in homicides have been caused by a “Minneapolis Effect,” similar to the earlier “Ferguson Effect.” Specifically, law enforcement agencies have been forced to divert resources from normal policing to patrolling demonstrations. And even as the anti-police protests have abated, police officers have scaled back on proactive or officer-initiated law enforcement, such as street stops and other forms of policing designed to prevent firearms crimes. If this thesis is correct, it is reasonable to estimate that, as a result of de-policing during June and July 2020, approximately 710 additional victims were murdered and more than 2,800 victims were shot. Of course, this estimate relies on various assumptions, and further research on the issues surrounding the homicide spikes should be an urgent priority.
If this article’s thesis about a Minneapolis Effect is correct, an important implication is that policymakers in major cities should proceed cautiously before taking step to “defund” the police in ways that might reduce proactive policing that is important in preventing gun violence.
Federal Sentencing Reporter, 2020 Forthcoming