Last Quarter: Property crime, overall crime, continue to drop; violent crime, including gun crime, soars

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Star Staff Reports

Based on preliminary figures from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), major property crime and overall crime continued a steady downward trend in 2020 both in Memphis and countywide. 

However, the community suffered from a significant increase in major violent crime, driven by murders and aggravated assaults. 

Reported gun crimes increased at a disturbing pace.

 The major property crime rate includes reported burglaries, motor vehicle thefts.and other felony thefts. The major property crime rate dropped 8.9% in Memphis and 8.4% countywide compared to 2019. Longer term, the decrease is even more encouraging – down 35.3% in Memphis and 36.4% countywide over a 15-year period (2006-2020).

The decrease is driven by a plummeting burglary rate. In Memphis, reported burglaries dropped 26.1% compared to 2019 (possibly driven by more people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic). However, it is a continuation of a longer downward trend. Since 2006, the burglary rate in Memphis has dropped 66.1%!

 The overall crime rate is determined by 54 separate categories tracked by the TBI. Compared to 2019, the overall crime rate dropped 1.5% in Memphis and 2.7% in all of Shelby County. 

Looking at the longer trend, overall crime was down 22.9% in Memphis compared to 15 years earlier (2006) and 25.8% countywide.

The biggest and most serious challenge remains violent crime, driven by gun violence. The major violent crime rate includes murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. In Memphis, the violent crime rate soared in 2020 compared to 2019 – up 24.3%. Countywide, the increase was 23.1%. Murders increased 49.0% in Memphis compared to 2019 and 45.9% countywide. Reported aggravated assaults jumped by a disturbing 35.4% in Memphis and 34.3% countywide. At the same time, though, reported robberies dropped 12.1% in Memphis and 13.8% throughout Shelby County.

Murders and aggravated assaults often involve perpetrators and victims who know each other. 

On the other hand, robberies usually involve perpetrators and victims who do not know each other. (Other cities saw alarming increases in murders in 2020. For example, according to The New York Times, murders increased 44% in New York City last year.)

 Gun violence is a critical factor in the jump in violent crime. For example, according to the Memphis Police Department (MPD), of the record breaking 332 homicides in 2020, 262 of them (79%) were with a gun. According to data from MPD, there were 6,454 reported violent incidents involving guns in 2020 – a 24.6% jump compared to 2019. 

Just as disturbing is that gun crimes made up 66.6% of all reported violent incidents compared to 60.5% of all reported violent incidents in 2019.

 The TBI reports the number of gun offenses. One “incident” can involve multiple “offenses.” For example, if an aggravated assault incident involves three victims, the TBI counts three offenses. For 2020, preliminary TBI figures show 14,154 offenses involving guns in Memphis compared to 9,402 in 2019 – a disturbing 49.6% jump.

“We’ve identified evidenced-based practices that, if implemented correctly, will work to reduce violent gun crime significantly.  We have leaders committed to them, but it takes resources,” said Bill Gibbons, Crime Commission president and executive director of the Public Safety Institute at the University of Memphis.

 Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland recently announced a commitment of additional resources to address gun violence, calling it our “biggest challenge.” 

District Attorney Amy Weirich is taking the lead in implementing an evidence-based best practice called focused deterrence. Various evidence-based practices are part of the local Safe Community Plan, available for review at www.memphiscrime.org.