News & Politics

What’s Really Happening With Crime Rates in DC Right Now?

It's feeling like our rate of violent crime is spiraling. Is it?

Image via iStock.

Washington is reeling after a tragic weekend in DC due to gun violence. A Friday night shooting in Congress Heights killed 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney and injured five others, and a drive-by shooting on Saturday night outside Nats Park injured three people and garnered national attention for suspending a Nats game.

Many in the city feel on edge, and frustrated. “DC we gotta do better,” tweeted Washington Mystics player Natasha Cloud, who has spoken out before about gun violence in the city. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III, meanwhile, on Saturday issued an exasperated statement amid a search for the suspects in the death of 6-year-old Courtney. “We have a collective responsibility to ensure our children have every opportunity to be safe from violence,” he said at a news conference. “I am asking that we all stand together and say no more. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Earlier this month, Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with other leaders, met with President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss gun violence prevention. Bowser also spoke about the issue on national television in late June following a particularly violent 24 hour-period in DC.

A year ago, Democrats were in the streets calling to defund the police. Now Biden is pushing a national plan for fighting crime—it includes curbing illegal gun sales and putting pandemic relief funds toward law enforcement—while in New York, former police officer Eric Adams is prevailing in the mayoral race with a tough-on-crime platform. One of Adams’s most memorable moments on the trail came when he said it didn’t make sense to defund the police “at a time when Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets.”

There’s no doubt there’s been a surge in gun violence locally during the pandemic. Take a look at the graph below—homicides rose 19 percent in DC in 2020, compared to 2019. And assaults with a dangerous weapon increased 3 percent.

Chart from the Metropolitan Police Department.

This hasn’t just happened in DC. Across the country, local leaders have been struggling to handle the increase in gun violence that their cities have seen during the pandemic.

But what’s happening so far this year?

To read recent metro-news coverage (and the narrative about a coming messaging war in Washington around crime and defunding the police) is to see an uptick in statements and stories about an uptick in crime. But a look at data from MPD shows that while crime is up in DC compared to pre-pandemic times, it is so far on par with last year at this time.

Homicides in DC are at the same level now as they were at this point in 2020, with 103 recorded so far this year and 104 last year. Violent crime overall is down 2 percent compared to last year. Arson and burglary have seen significant drops, while sex abuse and theft each declined 8 percent.

On the flip side, motor vehicle theft has increased by 25 percent this year, and robberies are up by 2 percent.

In other words, it’s hardly good news that we’re still essentially at pandemic-level-high homicides. But contrary to current conventional wisdom, violent crime is not spiraling higher and higher compared to last year either.