Newest FBI Data Reveals Sudden Increase in Murders and Declines in Property Crimes

Residential burglaries dropped by 58 percent in 2020

By: SafeHome.org Research | Published: Oct 19, 2021

The past 18 months of strain and strife appear to have taken their toll on the American psyche, according to the latest FBI crime data for 2020. After nearly two decades in which the murder rate remained largely consistent, between 2019 and 2020, murders increased by almost 30 percent.

However, while murder and violent crimes overall rose, most other types of criminal incidents declined, the FBI 2020 Crime in the United States report indicates. Burglary, larceny-theft, rape, and robbery all declined, while murder and manslaughter, aggravated assault, and motor vehicle theft all increased. Overall, the combined crime rate in the U.S. dropped by nearly six percent.

A nearly 30 percent increase in the homicide rate during a single year is startling, there’s no doubt about that. But fears of a crime surge all over the country do not appear to be well-founded, based on our analysis, and not all states experienced the same increases in crime. Read on to see if your state had a major increase in property or violent crime in 2020.

Key findings

  • Overall, the number of property crimes fell nationwide by 7.8 percent. Motor vehicle crimes were the exception, rising at a significant rate of 11.8 percent between 2019 and 2020.
  • Residential burglaries fell 58.8 percent. But non-residential burglaries, which often involve businesses instead of occupied homes, skyrocketed compared to the prior year.
  • Violent crime did not follow the downward trend of property crimes, rising by 5.6 percent. The number of murder and non-negligent manslaughters rose by 29.4 percent.
  • Reports of rape dropped by nearly 12 percent between 2019 and 2020, but experts note that rape and sexual assault are even less likely to be reported during times of crisis (such as a pandemic).

Property Crime Trends

The FBI includes burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson under the umbrella of property crime, and generally these crimes involve stealing money or property without force or threat to the victims.1

Although property crimes usually don’t involve physical violence, it can still be disturbing for victims to have their belongings stolen. Thankfully, as stay-at-home orders spread throughout the U.S., the estimated number of property crimes fell 8.1 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. The rate of larceny-theft dropped by even more, by nearly 11 percent compared to the year prior.

Type of Crime 2019 reports 2020 reports Percent change
All property crime 6,995,235 6,452,038 -7.8%
Burglary 1,118,096 1,035,314 -7.4%
Larceny-theft 5,152,267 4,606,324 -10.6%
Motor vehicle theft 724,872 810,400 +11.8%

Though this drop in property crimes is positive, huge sums are still stolen every year from homes and businesses. While residential burglaries fell by 58.8 percent, the FBI report says an estimated $1.1 billion of property was stolen from homes last year. On average, nearly $8,000 was stolen from residences during the average burglary.

Crime Location Percent change from 2019 Average value stolen
Robbery Total -9.9% $1,834
Street/highway -15.2% $1,719
Commercial house -9.1% $1,497
Gas or service station 8.3% $1,469
Convenience store 0.8% $1,005
Residence -1.6% $2,236
Bank -29.9% $4,339
Miscellaneous -12.8% $2,161
Burglary Total -7.5% $2,692
Residence (dwelling) -58.8% $7,937
Nonresidence (store, office, etc.) 19.7% $9,779
Motor vehicle theft Total 11.7% $9,166

Additionally, the rate of nonresidential burglaries actually rose by 19.7 percent across the country. Burglaries in businesses and workplaces could have been easier targets in 2020 as millions of workers sheltered in place at their homes.

Motor vehicle thefts also increased by 11.4 percent between 2019 and 2020. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an increase this dramatic had not happened in the past 30 years,2 likely because Americans were driving fewer miles and leaving their cars unattended for longer periods.

Some of these property crime trends have continued into 2021. Analysis of police report data revealed that residential burglaries and thefts dropped by another 10 percent.

Property crime changes by state

Not all states had equal rates of property crimes in 2020. Utah had the largest increase in overall property crimes and motor vehicle crimes between 2019 and 2020. Interestingly, the state also topped Forbes’ list of fastest-growing states from an economic standpoint.3 As more cash flowed into the state, so did the opportunities for thefts.

States with largest increases in violent crimes between 2019 and 2020

All Property crime Percent increase
Utah 13.6%
South Dakota 10.7%
Connecticut 9.3%
Burglary
Pennsylvania 36.2%
North Dakota 20.8%
Washington 14.8%
Larceny
Pennsylvania 13.2%
Utah 11.6%
South Dakota 7.6%
Motor vehicle theft
Utah 52.8%
New York 50.6%
District of Columbia 45.7%

Pennsylvania had the largest rates of increase in two categories, larceny theft and burglary. Tens of thousands lost their jobs in the state at the start of the pandemic, which could have been one factor in the uptick in property crimes. Since February 2020, employment in Pennsylvania is down 5.7 percent. By comparison, nationwide employment has decreased by 3.5 percent.4

Conversely, property crime in Alaska trended in the opposite direction, dropping 22 percent in 2020 compared to the year prior. Property crimes in Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island also declined by 19 percent within the same time period.

Violent Crime Trends

After trending downward since the early 1990s, violent crime ticked back up across the U.S. between 2019 and 2020 according to the latest FBI report. Community leaders, law enforcement, and policymakers have made great strides in reducing crime in recent decades, but unfortunately the latest rise in violent crime cannot be linked to any one cause. Many have attributed it to the pandemic, but homicide rates have not increased in other countries impacted by Covid-19. Compared to Mexico, Canada, and even El Salvador, only the U.S. experienced a major increase in murders in 2020.5

Type of crime 2019 crimes 2020 crimes Percent change
All violent crime 1,210,229 1,277,696 +5.6%
Murder and nonnegligent

manslaughter

16,669 21,570 +29.4%
Rape (revised definition) 143,224 126,430 -11.7%
Rape (legacy definition) 103,060 91,021 -11.7%
Robbery 268,483 243,600 -9.3%
Aggravated assault 822,017 921,505 +12.1%

Unfortunately, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rose faster than any other violent crime at a rate of nearly 30 percent nationwide. Aggravated assaults also drastically increased by 12 percent between 2019 and 2020.

Violent crime changes by state

Like with property crime, violent crime did not rise uniformly across the country. Some states saw larger increases than others, particularly in South Dakota, where violent crime rose by 26.3 percent. This is significantly higher than the national average increase of 5.6 percent.

Although the actual numbers are low compared to larger states, South Dakota also had the most dramatic increase in murders. There were just 16 reported murders in 2019, but the number jumped to 40 in 2020. In Montana murders rose from 32 in 2019 to 54 in 2020, and Wisconsin’s murders rose across the same time period from 189 to 308.

States with largest increases in number of violent crimes, by type (2019-2020)

All violent crime
South Dakota 26.3%
Kentucky 17.4%
Minnesota 16.8%
Murder
South Dakota 150%
Montana 68.8%
Wisconsin 63%
Robbery
South Dakota 44.2%
Montana 33.5%
Minnesota 22.9%
Rape
Mississippi* 24.1%
Wyoming 3.1%
Alaska 2.7%
Aggravated assault
Pennsylvania 38.7%
Georgia 33.5%
South Dakota 33.4%

* This state’s agencies submitted rape data according to the legacy UCR definition of rape. Most states used the FBI’s revised definition of rape when reporting incidents of crime, which is broader than the legacy definition.

Reported rapes decreased nationwide between 2019 and 2020 in all but four states: Mississippi, Wyoming, Alaska, and West Virginia. At first glance this may seem like a promising trend. But even during normal times, rape is grossly underreported, and could be even more so during disasters like pandemics.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), reporting sexual violence in the midst of a crisis may be considered a “luxury issue”,6 less essential than securing food, income, or shelter.

Vermont, New Hampshire, and Nevada had the greatest decreases in violent crime rates between 2019 and 2020, dropping by 16.3 percent, 7.4 percent, and 7.2 percent respectively.

Conclusion

In short, while the decline in property crime between 2019 and 2020 is encouraging, it is difficult to know exactly why crime trends move up or down during any given year. This data should be taken as a very important, very significant snapshot of crime in 2020. As more information comes to light about last year’s legal, health, and social challenges, we can expect more robust debate and insight into why crime changed during the first year of the pandemic.

Our data

All data was derived from the “Offenses Known to Law Enforcement 2020” report compiled by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. It was retrieved on September 29, 2021. Specifically we examined information from Table 1 (Crime in the U.S.), Table 23 (Offense Analysis), and Table 4 (Crime in the U.S.).

References

  1. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/property-crime
  2. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2021/08/31/auto-theft-spikes-stolen-car-vehicle-theft-pandemic-nicb/5652615001/
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2021/08/04/2021-us-states-by-gdp-and-which-states-have-experienced-the-biggest-growth/?sh=123dd5b5846c
  4. Map 2, https://carsey.unh.edu/publication/COVID-19-Economic-Impact-By-State
  5. https://www.inquiremore.com/p/stop-blaming-the-pandemic-for-americas
  6. https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/2012-04/Publications_NSVRC_Guides_Sexual-Violence-in-Disasters_A-planning-guide-for-prevention-and-response_0.pdf

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