A plague of homicides

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In 2020, Rochester saw the highest year-over-year increase in its homicide rate in a decade, a new working paper by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives states.

The 52 homicides were the most recorded in a single year during the 10-year period, the study states. In 2019, Rochester had 32 homicides.

Daniel Prude, whose death in March at the hands of Rochester police officers was ruled a homicide, is not included among the 52 victims, an omission CPSI director Irshad Altheimer explained as a consequence of the study’s reliance on a city of Rochester database. 

“To maintain consistency, we do not change the data that is reported,” Altheimer says.

On Tuesday, state Attorney General Letitia James announced that a grand jury voted not to indict any police officer on charges related to Prude’s death.

The Center for Public Safety Initiatives is a collaboration of RIT’s Department of Criminal Justice, the city of Rochester, and the criminal justice agencies of Greater Rochester including the Rochester Police Department and Monroe County Crime Lab. CPSI contributes to criminal justice strategy through research, policy analysis and evaluation. 

The CPSI publication, “Rochester Homicide Statistics for 2020,” examines long-term homicide trends in 24 U.S. cities in an effort to uncover what might be driving murder rates. 

Before 2020, Rochester like many other U.S. population centers had seen a gradual downward trend in homicides over the last 20 years, the report states. 

“It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why there was an overall increase in homicide rates in 2020,” the research paper notes. 

Still, it points to COVID-19 as a probable suspect. If not the sole cause of the national and local rise in homicides, it like was “a main contributing factor.” 

“This pandemic has changed daily lives, which disrupted crime patterns, increased fear and stress within communities, and weakened support systems for both youth and adults,” the report observes.

In the early stages of COVID’s spread, community policing efforts were scaled back, police made fewer arrests, and inmates were released from jails and prisons. Meanwhile, the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and Prude in Rochester sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

“The disproportionate impacts (on) these communities coupled with the unrest in policing and other governmental bodies led to distrust in law enforcement,” the paper notes. “Any distrust in the police can make citizens less likely to report crime and cooperate with law enforcement officials. This may have also caused individuals to settle disputes themselves.”

Paralleling increases in homicides and jumps in the rate of homicides, gun sales across the country rose in 2020.

Among New York cities sampled by the study, Rochester had the second-highest overall homicide rate, and second-highest percentage increase. All cities sampled by the paper across the country but one—Newark, N.J., with a 10.5 percent drop—saw their murder rates increase from 2019 to 2020.

While the 62.5 percent year-over-year jump in homicides Rochester saw last year pales in comparison to Indianapolis’ 124.8 percent increase or the 120 percent jump Atlanta experienced, it was a substantially higher increase than cities like New York (44.8 percent), Los Angeles (31.8 percent) or Washington, D.C. (19.3 percent) recorded.

In 2020, Rochester’s rate of homicide deaths per 100,000 population at 25.3 made it 10th highest among the 24 cities the study ranked according to that metric. St. Louis, Mo., topped the list with 87.2 homicide deaths per 100,000. With 5.5 homicide deaths per 100,000, New York City was lowest on the list.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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