Lawmakers and political pundits from across the political spectrum have been sounding the alarm about the crime rate in cities across the United States in recent years. And while it’s possible to cherry-pick statistics that back up such alarmism, plenty of other folks maintain that the supposed epidemic has been overblown.
Taking a toll on downtown
After widespread pandemic lockdowns left many corporate skyscrapers largely vacant, most of these buildings have yet to return to pre-COVID occupancy rates. On top of that, researchers say that Americans cite fears about crime as a primary reason that they refuse to live — or in some cases, even visit — these once-vibrant urban centers.
The Brookings Institution has been following the trend of decaying downtowns for a while and one of the think tank’s researchers explained that the numbers just don’t justify the reticence that many people have about spending time there.
According to Hanna Love: “People aren’t necessarily thinking about citywide statistics when they’re thinking about how they want to feel safe. People are hearing about people getting shot. People are talking to their friends. … There is this mismatch in perceptions and reality, but it still matters because people are still afraid.”
Crime by the numbers
There’s been a notable increase in both property crimes and violent crimes in the years since the COVID-19 outbreak, as evidenced in these stats covering the years 2019 to 2022:
- Violent crime was up 26% in New York City and 22% in Seattle.
- Crimes like larceny and burglary tended to increase even more abruptly.
- Such property crimes were up 38% in New York and 36% in Chicago.
While that clearly looks bad, it’s not fair to blame downtowns. When separating the stats by area, most cities have seen a negligible increase in downtown crimes.