Tennessee reports sharp increase in homicides in 2020, mirroring national trend

·3 min read

Sep. 28—Tennessee experienced a 10-year high in violent crime in 2020, mirroring a trend that showed a sharp increase in homicides across the country, according to data from the FBI.

The data, made public Monday, reports Tennessee with a rate of 9.6 homicides per 100,000 residents, a figure outpacing the national average of 6.5 homicides per 100,000 residents.

It is the highest homicide rate in Tennessee since 1995.

The FBI data is collected through the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which relies upon local law enforcement agencies to report data to the federal level.

The FBI data for Chattanooga tallied 33 homicides in 2020, the same number the city saw in 2019. The number is more than any other year in the past 10 years.

Twenty-nine of the 33 homicides in 2020 involved firearms, according to the federal data.

On Saturday in Chattanooga, several shootings killed three people and left five others injured. Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly called the violence "absolutely unacceptable."

The rate of homicide rose nationwide in 2020, and not just in major metropolitan areas. Analysts have pointed to the high rates of unemployment and lockdown measures tied to the COVID-19 pandemic as being probable causes of the spike in violent crime.

In Tennessee, violent crime reached a 10-year high in 2020 but rates were still well below peaks reported in the 1990s and 2000s. The violent crime rate for Tennessee in 2020 was 672.7 offenses per 100,000 residents, compared to 789.7 in 1997 and 762.5 in 2006.

Reported crimes such as robbery, burglary, larceny and other property crimes all reached lows in 2020 compared to the previous three decades in Tennessee, according to the data.

Similarly, Alabama and Georgia reported large spikes in the homicide rate in 2020 that outpaced national averages.

Overall, the toll of about 21,500 people killed last year nationwide is still well below the record set during the violence of the early 1990s, according to The New York Times. Still, several cities — including Memphis; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Milwaukee; and Des Moines, Iowa — are recording their highest murder numbers ever, according to the report.

There is no simple explanation for the steep rise. A number of key factors are driving the violence, including the economic and social toll taken by the pandemic and a sharp increase in gun purchases, the Times reported.

"It is a perfect storm," said Chief Harold Medina of the Albuquerque Police Department.

He cited COVID-19, the fallout from social justice protests and bail-reform efforts that in some cities saw more incarcerated people released back onto the streets.

"There is not just one factor that we can point at to say why we are where we are," he said.

The report from the FBI, which tabulates crime numbers reported by almost 16,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, also showed that murders were more widespread, occurring in all regions of the United States and not limited to major cities, according to the Times.

The New York Times contributed to this story.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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