What's Really Behind Cleveland's Rise in Crime?

On July 7 of this year, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams held a public safety briefing, saying homicides are up significantly in 2021.

In the briefing, Jackson said there had been 63 homicides in Cleveland by this time in 2020. This year, there have already been 88. He also said the city has seen an uptick in other violent crimes compared to last year, with 47% of them involving guns.

As more and more people are getting vaccinated, businesses are reopening and mandates are all but gone in Ohio, there has been speculation this rise in crime is tied to the waning of the pandemic.

In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, a dramatic decline in crime was found during the pandemic — but mostly in peer-based crimes. Without the ability to hold large gatherings, go to school or attend college in-person, petty crimes that happen in group settings will naturally happen less, the study explains.

On the other hand, crimes that do not require group settings did not see a general decline.

“Lockdown orders are unlikely to impact non-groupy crimes,” the study said. “In this case, it would make sense that serious crimes like homicide and (domestic violence) would not change during a lockdown order, especially in a climate charged with the mental stress and anxiety associated with forced lockdowns.”

Why then, would Cleveland be seeing a rise in violence in 2021 if the pandemic did not cause a dip in violent crimes?

In general, a wide variety of causes could be contributing to the rise in violence that have nothing to do with COVID, not just in Cleveland, but nationwide.

One reason may be a general distrust in police: A Gallup poll from August 2020 found, while trust in other public institutions were on the rise, trust in police had dropped to 48 percent — a record-low finding for the poll.

With more guns being available in the US every year, and constant backlash against firearms regulation, it is possible for guns to have a major impact in the amount of violence seen in Cleveland.

The retaliatory nature of violence could also play a factor in this trend. Patrick Sharkey, a Princeton sociologist, told The Washington Post “The thing about violence is that it builds on itself. It cascades. Each shooting brings the possibility of a reprisal.”

With all these factors in mind, it begs the question: What can be done to reduce crime?

During the previously mentioned press conference, Jackson said the Mayor’s office is searching for ways to curb the spike in violence.

One initiative taken by the city has been gun confiscation. By the end of June, the city had confiscated at least 1,600 guns, a massive improvement compared to the 950 guns confiscated by law enforcement all of last year.

These numbers, however, sit in contrast against a spike in homicides that Jackson was speaking about back in April, when there had already been 47 homicides, 12 more than April 2020.

Addressing this issue is sure to be on the top of voters' minds as they cast their ballot for the next mayor of Cleveland this fall.

*Both the Cleveland Police Department and Mayor’s office were not immediately available for comment on this story.