Bucking national street violence trends, shootings and homicides decreased in Boston this year compared to last year, while gun arrests in the city have increased.
Through Sunday, Boston had recorded 38 homicides for the year, down from 53 for the same time period last year. It’s a dip from the city’s five-year-average of 51 killings a year. Total shooting incidents also were down, from 224 last year to 163 this year.
Overall, what police refer to as Part 1 crime, which includes homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults, robberies, larcenies, burglaries, and auto thefts, was down 14 percent.
Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman, attributed the decrease in street violence to the hard work of the department’s members, and the force’s community outreach.
“We work in partnership and trust to build neighborhoods that are . . . safe places to live,” said Boyle.
In 2020, with COVID-19 raging throughout Boston’s neighborhoods, there was an increase in violence. Shootings and homicides spiked compared to 2019, when the city hit a 20-year-low for homicides.
But in 2021, the city experienced a year-over-year decrease in street violence. Boston’s year stands in stark contrast with what is going on in other major US cities, many of which are grappling with record-breaking numbers of shootings and homicides in 2021.
Cities that have set homicide records this year include St. Paul, Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia, Louisville, Ky., Portland, Ore., and Baton Rouge, La., among others.
Philip Cook, a public policy professor emeritus at Duke University, said in an e-mail that in contrast to Boston’s figures, the national count “has already matched the total for all of last year, which in turn was 26 percent higher than the previous year.”
Cook predicted that by Dec. 31, the national gun-homicide total would be “well over 20,000.” Last year, nonsuicide gun deaths in the United States topped 19,400, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Christopher Herrmann, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the nationwide increase in violence is being fueled by increased mental health stressors, including the pandemic, unemployment, financial and social strains, and decreased trust in the criminal justice system. Other factors include further fractured relationships between the community and police, lags in the court system processes, and decreased police morale, as well as limited and decreased use of violence interruption programs during the pandemic, he said.
Herrmann, a former crime analyst supervisor with the New York Police Department, gave Boston police “a lot of credit” for the crime trends in the city.
”There’s something special happening because I’m looking at a lot of cities that are higher than normal . . . and there’s no sign of it going down,” he said.
The Rev. Richard “Doc” Conway, a Roman Catholic priest for the parishes of St. Ambrose and St. Mark who does antiviolence work in the city, theorized that youth outreach programs and police taking guns off the street contributed to the dip in crime.
But even Conway admitted he’s speculating: “I’m not sure,” he said when asked why Boston was bucking national trends.
After a news conference on Monday, Mayor Michelle Wu said “any incident of violence or trauma in our community is too much.” She said her administration is “working very closely with public safety officials [and] with community leaders to have a long-term plan and be proactive about how we’re planning for this year and making sure we’re continuing the momentum on healing and safety in our neighborhoods.”
“We are a city that takes care of each other and we need to make sure every single resident feels safe, is connected to opportunity all across our neighborhoods,” she said. “We’re not going to stop until that is true across every part of Boston.”
Jamarhl Crawford, a local community activist, had similar thoughts, saying that it is difficult to tell communities that continue to be traumatized by shootings that street violence is down.
Boston, in part because of its smaller size, is not like other major American cities, which complicates crime comparisons, he said.
“It’s very different here,” Crawford said.
Whatever the cause, the reduced crime rates represent a positive story for a police department that has been buffeted by scandal throughout the year, from allegations of overtime fraud at an evidence warehouse to revelations that the department allowed an officer to continue to serve on the force for years after investigators determined in the mid-1990s he had more than likely molested a child.
The BPD also still lacks a permanent leader months after then-acting mayor Kim Janey fired the last commissioner, Dennis White, following the reemergence of decades-old domestic abuse allegations against him.
Selecting a new commissioner ranks among the most important tasks facing Wu as she starts her new administration, and she has pledged to launch a national search in the new year.