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Overall violent crime rate increases in 2021 despite drop at end of the year

Decreases in violent crime were reported in the second half of 2021, but the county as a whole saw a one percent increase between 2020 and 2021.
Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 6:54 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Violent crime in Memphis saw some decreases in the second half of 2021.

The Memphis Shelby Crime Commission says violent crimes are things like homicide, aggravated assaults, robberies, and rapes.

However, the crime commission says there’s still a long way to go, as the overall violent crime rate in Memphis for all of 2021 still grew by two percent. In Shelby County as a whole, it increased just over one percent, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).

“It’s too early to tell if this is the beginning of a downward trend,” said Bill Gibbons, president of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. “Only time will tell. I do think it’s encouraging.”

Between 2019 and 2020, violent crime in Memphis went up 24% with a 23% increase countywide.

That is lower than how the year was projected to look in the first six months. Gibbons says the first half of 2021 saw a 12% increase countywide and 13% increase in Memphis compared to a year prior.

“The increases were not nearly as significant as the decreases in the other months,” Gibbons said.

Here’s how the last six months of 2021 break down, according to Memphis police data. Violent crimes in Aug. went down 9% per month over month. Nov. and Sep. both saw 7% decreases.

But July, Oct., and Dec. all saw increases month over month at 1%, 7%, and 2% respectively.

Gibbons says the violent crime rates started climbing across the country at the start of the pandemic.

The crime commission reports in 2018, 2019, and up until March 2020, violent crime was on a downward trend. However, cities across the country saw that change starting in March 2020. Gibbons says in Shelby County, the increase was mainly due to a rise in aggravated assaults, which accounted for 80% of the major violent crime reported.

The commission said rapes and robberies have gone down.

One impact Gibbons suspects is the decrease in proactive policing during COVID-19 case surges. As social distancing was put in place and concerns about the contagiousness of the virus continue, Gibbons says there may be less interaction between police and the public.

“It may be, again only time will tell, that in the fall of 2021 as we were seeing the impacts of the pandemic subside, a little during those months, police officers were deciding to become more willing to interact with individuals on a day-to-day basis,” Gibbons said.

There were still 342 homicides last year, which is a record.

“The one clear message remains, violent crime remains way too high in our community,” Gibbons said.

This week, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland addressed violent crime and gun violence in his State of the City address.

The city has continued to increase incentives for Memphis police officers to build the force. Strickland told Action News 5 he’s had conversations with Tennessee speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton, about pushing legislation this year to help curb these kinds of crime.

“The two takeaways for [Sexton] was we need stiffer penalties for violent criminals. We’re not talking about non-violent criminals, violent criminals who use guns illegally and hurt people. That and young people needing more interventions so they never pick up that gun,” Strickland said.

Strickland says federal funds will help put Boys & Girls Clubs in 10 more public high schools in Memphis for after-school support and career training.

It’s a program that’s seeing major success already at Craigmont High School, which has seen 100% of its members over four years graduate high school. In addition, Strickland says 100% of those graduates have gone on to either higher education, vocational training, or the military.

“I’m not guaranteeing if we put this in every school it’s going to be 100%, but anything close to that will be a huge win,” Strickland said.

Gibbons says the crime commission will release its next five-year plan on how to tackle violent crime this year.

Action News 5 reached out to the Memphis Police Department for comment about crime rates and has not received a reply back.

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