Murders spiked around the U.S. last year, the FBI says. What about Boston?

The COVID-19 pandemic likely played a role in the rise, experts say.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Boston police headquarters. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The estimated number of violent crimes committed rose nationwide in 2020, including a nearly 30 percent increase in homicides and non-negligent manslaughter, data from the FBI released on Monday shows.

The increase marks the first time in four years the estimated number of violent crimes rose over the previous year, although other types of crime dropped overall, with property crimes declining 8.1 percent from 2019, the agency said in a statement.

Boston was not immune to the rise in murders last year: Homicides rose by double digits in the Hub, from 37 to 57, data released at the end of the year showed, The Boston Globe reported earlier this year. (Notably, 2019 saw a 20-year low for homicides. In 2018, the city recorded 56 murders.)


The FBI’s data is informed by 15,897 agencies that submitted records to the federal department.

The data shows there were an estimated 1,277,696 violent crimes, with a few notable decreases: The number of estimated robberies dropped by 9.3 percent, and the number of estimated rapes decreased by 12 percent.

But aggravated assaults rose by 12.1 percent, and murders and non-negligent manslaughter climbed by 29.4 percent across the country, according to the FBI.

Experts have said the COVID-19 pandemic could have contributed to the uptick in murders.

“COVID-19 likely did have an impact,” Justin Nix, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska Omaha, told the Associated Press. “People were under increased psychological and financial pressure during the pandemic. Criminologists have long pointed to ‘strain theory’ to explain criminal behavior.

“Stressors — such as unemployment, isolation, and uncertainty about the future — can lead to increased frustration and anger,” Nix added. “People experiencing these negative emotions are more prone to turn to crime when they lack access to more positive coping mechanisms.”

According to the FBI, there were an estimated 6,452,038 property crimes nationwide.

“The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes showed declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates,” officials said. “Burglaries dropped 7.4 percent, larceny-thefts decreased 10.6 percent, while motor vehicle thefts rose 11.8 percent.”


In Boston, other serious crimes such as rape, robberies, and home break-ins dropped last year, the Globe reported.

As for 2021, the FBI has not compiled data yet, but Boston police statistics indicate Boston has so far seen a less violent year than 2020.

On Monday, the Boston Herald reported 20 people had been fatally shot in Boston through Sept. 26 this year — a decline from the 37 fatal shootings recorded by this time last year.

The city has seen increases for one particular category, however: Rape and attempted rapes have risen by 6.8 percent.

But overall, violent crime has dropped by 16 percent this year to date, and nearly all other categories show a decrease, according to the newspaper.

“These recent crime statistics are a product of the hard work of the dedicated men and women of the Boston Police. These officers work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure public safety for the residents of the City of Boston,” Gregory Long, the department’s superintendent-in-chief, told the newspaper.

“We continue to work with our community partners to strengthen our existing relationship with the shared goal of ensuring safe neighborhoods throughout our city,” Long added.


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