While newly released FBI data shows a troubling increase in homicides in C-U, Illinois and the nation last year, some perspective is needed.
That was no ordinary crime wave the United States experienced last year. In fact, newly released FBI statistics suggest it wasn’t a crime wave at all. But there was a distressing increase in violent crimes, particularly homicides.
Champaign and Urbana mirrored the national trends. There were more violent crimes — including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — in the two cities in 2020 than at any time since 2010, according to the FBI data. Champaign reported 827 violent crimes in 2020 (the same number as 2019), and Urbana reported a significant increase, from 124 incidents in 2019 to 214 in 2020. There were 11 homicides in the two cities, including nine in Champaign.
Homicides were up almost 30 percent nationally, a total of 21,570 for the year. In Illinois, the homicide rate was 9.1 per 100,000 people, the highest rate since 1996. Homicide numbers were at a 10-year high in Springfield, Decatur and Kankakee. St. Louis experienced its highest murder rate in 50 years.
But criminologists noted that nationally, not all violent crimes increased, and property crime — the most common type of crime — actually decreased by 8 percent. That was the case in Champaign and Urbana, where property crimes last year amounted to about one-half the number during the peak years in the prior decade.
Experts have a number of theories for the unsettling increase in homicides and other violent crimes, mostly centering on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: social isolation; stresses brought on by the fear of employment and housing loss; concerns about schooling and child care. Gun sales also soared during the pandemic, and 77 percent of the homicides last year were committed with a firearm.
As the effect of the pandemic wanes — we all hope — there is the belief that society will return to some kind of normal, the economy will stabilize, schools will remain open and violent crimes will drop.
But some stressors will continue for some people. Policing must continue to be part of the solution to crime prevention, as well as programs like one being tried in Urbana where a police officer and a social worker will follow up on people involved in mental-health and behavioral-health crises. Team members will work to link people with resources and services available in the community.
Finally, the gun violence that is claiming so many young people in Champaign-Urbana and the nation must be addressed not only by police and social workers but by business people, faith leaders, teachers, youth and athletic groups, mentors, neighbors and others. Everyone has a role.