Star Staff Reports
MEMPHIS – The University of Memphis (UofM) Public Safety Institute and the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission have released preliminary crime figures from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for the first three quarters of 2020 (January-September) compared to certain previous years. In some cases, the figures reflect significant changes during the COVID-19 pandemic period of April-September compared to figures released earlier for just the first quarter of the year (January-March).
A disturbing change is in the major violent crime rate (based on reported murders, robberies, rapes and aggravated assaults). At the end of the first quarter, the major violent crime rate actually dropped 4.3% in the City of Memphis and 5.2% countywide compared to the first quarter of 2019.
The decline was driven by significant declines in reported robberies and aggravated assaults. However, taking the COVID-19 months of April-September into account, the major violent crime rate is up 17.6% in Memphis and 17.1% countywide for the first three quarters of the year compared to 2019.
The increase in the major violent crime rate is attributable to significant increases in murders (up an alarming 62.7% in Memphis and 55.1% countywide) and aggravated assaults (up 27.2% in Memphis and 26.6% throughout the county), reversing the decline during the first quarter of the year. Both murders and aggravated assaults often involve perpetrators and victims who know each other.
On the other hand, during the COVID-19 months of April-September, the rate of reported robberies – where the victims are usually random and unknown to the perpetrators – continued a three-year decline.
Through September, reported robberies were down 14.7% in Memphis and 15.5% countywide compared to the first three quarters of 2019. This continues a longer-term downward trend. Since 2016, in Memphis, the rate of reported robberies has plummeted 34.1% and an even more significant 59.8% compared to 2006.
There was encouraging news on the major property crime rate as well (which includes reported burglaries, motor vehicle thefts and other felony thefts). Overall, the major property crime rate was down 12.2% in Memphis and 11.7% throughout the county, driven by a very significant decrease in the burglary rate – minus 27.5% in Memphis and minus 26.3% countywide compared to the first three quarters of last year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have been at home, especially during the day, likely serving as a deterrent to would-be burglars. 2 | U o f M P u b l i c S a f e t y I n s t i t u t e
The reduction in reported burglaries is a continuation of an ongoing downward trend. In Memphis, there were 6,832 reported burglaries during the first three quarters of 2016 and an alarming 12,478 in 2006. The number stands at 4,055 so far this year. Since 2016, Memphis has benefitted from a 40.5% drop in the rate of reported burglaries and a dramatic decline of 66.8% since 2006.
The overall crime rate is measured by 54 separate types of “Group A crimes” tracked by the TBI. While not as dramatic as the reduction in robberies and burglaries, the overall crime rate has also shown a relatively consistent downward trend. In Memphis, the overall crime rate dropped 4.1% compared to the first three quarters of 2019 and 5.3% countywide. Compared to 2006, the decline is 25.0% in Memphis and 27.9% countywide.
“The increases in murders and aggravated assaults are occurring in cities across the country during the pandemic. We are not alone. Many of these crimes involve perpetrators and victims who know each other, which probably reflects the increased stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, we can be encouraged by continuing and consistent declines in robberies and burglaries. While still a problem, the chances of being a random victim of a robbery or burglary are down considerably,” said Bill Gibbons, president of the Crime Commission and executive director of the UofM Public Safety Institute.