New York City, for example, experienced about 500 murders in 2020, compared with 319 in 2019, but both figures were far below the city’s worst year, 1990, when there were more than 2,200. Chicago had 771 murders last year, compared with about 500 in 2019 and 939 in 1992, one of the city’s most violent years. There were 351 murders last year in Los Angeles, versus 258 in 2019; its record is 1,010 murders in 1980.
The protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd were also an important factor, although experts differ about why. Some argue that the police, under intense scrutiny and demoralized, pulled back from some aspects of crime prevention. Others put the emphasis on the public, suggesting that diminished respect for the police prompted more people to try to take the law into their own hands.
“The distrust of police, the low morale among police, the fact that the police are being less proactive because they are legitimately worried about being backed up by their superiors,” all were contributed factors, according to Mr. Winograd.
Law enforcement officers also cited what they called the revolving jailhouse door created by bail reform as a factor driving up violence, although critics of that hypothesis noted that violent crime also increased in places where those changes have not occurred.
Other factors are more constant. The combination of drugs, money and guns, for example, has long provided a fuse for violent deaths among young men.
“A lot of it really does go back to people stressed by poverty and mental health issues and by drug addiction, and resolving a lot of these disputes by firearms,” said Liz Thomson, who used to supervise homicide investigations for the Albuquerque Police Department.
Even before the pandemic, people seemed more prickly, with minor disputes escalating into violent confrontations that ended in murder, law enforcement and other analysts noted. That tendency only deepened during the pandemic, they said, with perceived personal insults among the most common motivations for murder.