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Columbus among large U.S. cities experiencing low homicide rate post-pandemic

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Columbus saw its 22nd homicide of 2024 on Sunday. As of Monday, that is the lowest number of homicides Columbus has had to date in one year since 2015.

Columbus' low murder rate so far this year isn't unique.

Several other cities across the country are also seeing a significant dip in homicides following record years during the pandemic. Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio are among the cities The Wall Street Journal highlighted as experiencing a post-pandemic dip in homicides after some, including Columbus, experienced record years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Columbus Police responded to the city's 22nd homicide Sunday night in the 1300 block of East Hudson Street. The victim had been shot and died shortly after paramedics arrived after 10 p.m.

Twenty-two homicides is the lowest homicide total in Columbus at this point in the year in almost a decade. A total of 22 homicides by April 15 was the norm for Columbus between 2010 and 2015.

Some Columbus community groups are partnering with the Columbus Division of Police in hopes of keeping the number of homicides below triple digits this year.

From 2016 until the pandemic, the number of homicides in the first four-and-a-half months increased to a high of 61 homicides in 2021. That year, the city experienced a record high of 205 homicides.

Georgia State University Criminal Justice Professor Thad Johnson told WOSU cities like Columbus are seeing reductions thanks to better policing, certainty of punishments and more money being spent on reducing violence in neighborhoods. Johnson previously worked as a police officer in Memphis, and studies police policy and innovations, urban violence, crime control and racially disparate justice outcomes.

"We know that it's not the severity or the quickness of punishment. It's the certainty of punishment and having courts up and running that really helps with both specific and general deterrence to the broader society," Johnson said.

Johnson said he isn't surprised at all that cities are seeing a turn back to pre-pandemic homicide levels. He said some cities, like Washington D.C. and Memphis aren't seeing this drop and he attributes that to the cities not investing enough in violence reduction programs.

But, Johnson said he isn't celebrating the drop in homicides, because Black people in the U.S. are still more at risk of being homicide victims.

"Even to this day with these drops, this is getting lost in the conversation. Black people are still about eight times more likely to be killed from homicide," Johnson said.

Johnson said while crime is dropping in large cities, the same can't be said for suburbs and rural areas. He said research has shown non-lethal crime and aggravated assaults are either staying steady or ticking up.

In Columbus, the number of felonious assaults and non-fatal shootings remain high.

During Columbus' record year for homicides in 2021, there were 445 felonious assaults by this time of year and more than 500 last year. So far in 2024, there have been 405 felonious assaults.

There have been 157 reported shootings so far this year, of which 70 caused injuries from the gunshots and another three caused other injuries. Of the 22 homicides so far this year, 20 of them were caused by a shooting.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.