Killings in the United States jumped nearly 30% last year, according to FBI data released Monday that indicate a growing number of gun-related slayings amid the pandemic.
The FBI said murder and manslaughter rose 29.4% - the largest one-year increase since such the federal government began compiling national figures in the 1960s. That historic increase has been known for some time, and has sparked concern from police officials and prosecutors. But the FBI release of data compiled from thousands of law enforcement agencies formally confirms the trend.
Overall, violent crime rose 5.6% in 2020, while property crimes fell 7.8%, the FBI said. Assaults increased 12%, according to the bureau.
Criminologists and police officials have been studying the possible explanations for the sudden sharp increase in killings - from societal changes due to coronavirus, to policing, to increased gun sales. So far this year, officials are seeing a further increase in homicides, but not as pronounced as last year.
The FBI data also shows how much killing in America is fueled by shootings. Gun homicides account for more than two out of every three such deaths, according to officials.
Republicans and Democrats disagree on what is causing the increase in homicides, and how to stop it. Conservatives blame Democratic-run cities for what they say are overly restrictive policies placed on police departments; the Biden administration faults the easily availability of guns as a primary reason for more deaths, and the Justice Department is trying to stem the violence by cracking down on illegal gun trafficking.
The disturbing crime data comes as the FBI is pushing the nation's roughly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies to change how they provide data to calculate national figures.
The switch-over to the new crime data format, known as National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, has been a years-long process. Many law enforcement agencies don't yet provide that kind of data to the FBI, leaving some crime experts to predict that national crime figures are likely to get worse before they get better.
“It’s a little bit like cleaning out your garage - first you put a lot of stuff on the lawn, so it looks worse before it looks better,” said Mitch Beemer, who manages crime data for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which adopted a similar data-tracking program years earlier. “But I’m optimistic that we are moving in the right direction and will get most of the way there in five or six years.”