Maryland’s homicides and rapes are rising as overall crime declines
By Victoria A. Ifatusin
Overall crime in Maryland steadily declined between 2010 and 2020, according to data from Maryland’s Open Data portal and yearly Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), a compilation of crime statistics from Maryland police departments.
Yet reported homicides increased in that same period.
Homicides in the state rose to a ten-year high of 573 in 2020, a nearly 35% increase from 2010. The largest year-to-year increase occurred in 2015 when homicides rose to 553, a 52% increase from the previous year.
Some criminologists attribute this uptick to individuals carrying more firearms as their distrust in police officers grew, especially following the deaths of Freddie Gray in 2015 and George Floyd in 2020. Gray died from injuries sustained while in police custody; Floyd died from asphyxia caused by a police officer kneeling on his neck.
“The unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd … had a large impact on policing, meaning policing got a lot less proactive,” said Thomas Abt, criminologist, professor, and Director of the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction (VRC) at the University of Maryland.
Experts say that law enforcement became less rigid following the protests. Data from Maryland’s Uniform Crime Report shows that of the 573 murders reported in 2020, only 47% resulted in an arrest.
“[George Floyd’s murder] greatly impacted community trust, so communities were less likely to report crimes, to give information about solving crimes. And so basically, it drove a wedge between police and communities,” said Abt.
This animosity led to people in Baltimore using firearms for self-defense, therefore causing gun violence to surge in the city, according to Gary LaFree, criminologist and distinguished professor at the University of Maryland’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Department.
“People don’t have as much confidence in the system. They’re more likely to take the law into their own hands,” he said. “What happens when you aren’t relying on the police to respond to violence? Well, you’re arming yourself.”
92% of homicides in Maryland were committed with a firearm in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Baltimore City alone accounted for 334 homicides, 58% of the state’s reported homicides that year, according to UCR data for Maryland. In 2015, the year Freddie Gray died, it accounted for 344 homicides, 62% of the state’s total.
“Freddie Gray was Baltimore’s George Floyd”
Dr. Joseph Richardson, the Joel and Kim Feller Endowed Professor of African American studies and Medical Anthropology at the University of Maryland, suggested that Baltimore neighborhoods were already undergoing de-policing and doubt in law enforcement well before Floyd’s death.
“Freddie Gray was Baltimore’s George Floyd, if you want to be honest about it. … After Freddie Gray, we started hearing that narrative from people in the communities – that the police were no longer responding proactively to crime and it was much more reactive policing or not reacting at all,” he said.
Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force – a former unit within the Baltimore Police Department tasked with removing guns from the streets, but ultimately found to be involved in extensive corruption and abuses of power – further eroded public trust in the police, he said.
“You take that on top of Freddie Gray … what you have is from the public’s perception a total breakdown … in perceiving the police from a sense of lawlessness,” Richardson said. “Why would you entrust that the police would respond to you when you had any kind of crisis or need?”
Richardson, who conducts research on gun violence and trauma among Black boys and young Black men, suggests that additional context – such as the poverty and the lack of funding in local schools, among many – is additionally needed to understand why homicides are persistent in the city.
More survivors are reporting rape and sexual violence.
Rape cases also increased between 2010 and 2020, according to UCR data for Maryland.
Rape and sexual assault reports increased to 1,891 in 2020, a 54% increase from 2010, after peaking to 2,106 in 2018, according to UCR data for Maryland.
According to Lydia Watts – the Executive Director of the Rebuild, Overcome And Rise Center, (ROAR), a center that provides services to survivors of crime, violence and harm, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore – this statistic shows a “good sign.”
“I know that it sounds counterintuitive to say that it’s better that there are more reported rapes,” she said. “But … rape is such an underreported crime, that what I take from that is the numbers of recorded rapes have increased, hopefully, as a result of better policing.”
Watts is a lawyer who has represented survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking for almost 27 years, and noted that for a long time, reporting rape or sexual assault to the police can “be a really harrowing experience.”
She described the original methods police used when dealing with rape and sexual violence as “old-school policing” where officers used “a factual and not traumatic or trauma-informed” strategy.
“So there’s been a huge movement really dating back to the 80’s, and even earlier 70’s, of trying to train police officers on how to be more trauma-informed,” Watts said, which increases the likelihood of victims reporting sexual crimes.
Property crimes on the decline
Most property crimes declined each year between 2010 and 2020, according to UCR data for Maryland.
Property crimes, specifically breaking or entry and larceny-theft, comprise the majority of total crimes compared to other property and violent crimes, allowing them to widely dictate the change in crime rates, according to Abt.
“Overall crime numbers are generated by low-level crimes,” Abt said. “Most of the crimes that you see in the crime numbers are larcenies. And so what that means is that because those are the frequent crimes, whether they go up, they’ll control the overall crime number.”
LaFree attributes the overall decline in property crime to a variety of reasons, such as an aging population, the reducing impact of crack cocaine on crime, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced people to stay at home.
Crime experts are often skeptical of statistics because crime rates are simply crimes reported to and discovered by police, not all crimes committed.
“Most crimes come to the attention of police because somebody reports the crime to the police, especially crimes that involve victimization, like robberies and burglaries and larcenies and assaults,” said UMD criminologist and professor Robert Brame. “So that raises the question of the crimes that are not reported to the police because those are crimes too.”
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