Oklahoma City (Free Press) — Oklahoma City has seen a steep rise in homicides throughout 2021, with numbers already set to dwarf 2020’s yearlong total, but the city has simultaneously seen a clear decrease in all other forms of violent crime this year.
As nationwide reports of violence, led by gun-related incidents and homicides, have been skyrocketing, OKC finds itself in the counterintuitive position of dealing with an upward spiral of homicides while also touting a marked decline in overall violent crime reports.
Overall violent crime down
“Although much of the country is seeing an increase in violent crime, we haven’t really seen that here,” says Master Sergeant Gary Knight of OKCPD’s Office of Media Relations. “If you look at the month of May, the last month for which we have statistics, our numbers appear to be down, mostly.”
Those May statistics paint a clear picture of the decline in non-homicide violence reports.
From May 2020 to May 2021, overall violent crimes were down in OKC by at least 9%, even including the ballooning homicide numbers. Aggravated assault, always the largest number in violent crime stats, was down by 5% throughout the year, and robbery reports down a staggering 30%.
However, the delay in combined, available crime reporting raises some questions about the sustainability of such a decline. In May of this year, when these numbers were compiled, the homicide totals were already higher than in 2020 but were still far behind the current exploding homicide rate that has gripped the city over this summer.
To learn more: Homicides in City of OKC so far outpace those of 2019, 2020
Will it last?
Similarly, other violent crime categories could still be on track to outpace last year’s totals. The number of rape reports across the city saw only a 1% decline from May ’20 to May ’21, with both April and May already showing single-month increases when compared to last year.
The decline in the rate of violent crime in OKC is especially confounding when considering that Oklahoma has long posted a crime rate notably higher than the rest of the country. In 2018, statewide crime reports reached up to 20% higher than the national average.
So why the disparity between OKC’s homicide numbers and other violent crimes, and why is there such a gulf between our declining stats and the trend of increasing violence nationwide?
Even the police are stumped by the anomaly.
“Those are great questions, but any answer I gave would be pure conjecture and speculation,” MSgt. Knight says. “There has been a whole lot of things happen in this country over the last year. I can’t really put my finger on any one reason for all of this.”
This difficulty to explain and contextualize current criminal trends is not a purely local phenomenon. While OKC is struggling to make sense of this “violent crime down, homicides up” scenario, other cities all across the nation are seeing similarly challenging crime data rooted in multiple unprecedented events since 2020.
The Council on Criminal Justice released a sweeping report in June of 2021 placing current nationwide criminal trends within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread social upheaval in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
The significant reduction in robberies, for example, seems to be in line with the rest of the country.
“The robbery rate was 6% lower during the first half of 2021 than during the same period in 2020, the report says. “The decrease means that there were 1,396 fewer robberies in the study cities during the first six months of 2021 than occurred in the first half of the previous year.”
The rates for aggravated assault, however, currently down in OKC, looked to very closely follow the upward trend of increasing homicide rates in the surveyed states.
Issues of crime, violence, and policing are undoubtedly being thrown into the same turmoil as all other institutions as each state and city in America struggles to handle the overlapping crises in wildly different and decentralized ways.
But, with Oklahoma City counting its 65th homicide and perhaps a new one by Friday afternoon, the problem persists and will continue to pose new challenges to the response of OKCPD and other parts of City government.