Crime rates increase amid pandemic; Greensboro police working to get guns off street

Buckley Report

(WGHP) — After nearly three decades of tremendous success in preventing many different types of crimes across the country, crime rates increased amid the pandemic.

“Homicide really peaked in 1991 and then started a very steady decline since then which we’ve seen over the past several decades,” said Rena Zito, an Elon University professor and criminologist. “The data from 2020 show that some crimes are up everywhere, specifically homicides as well as aggravated assaults. And other offenses are down and have continued their downward trajectory that we’ve seen over the past couple of decades.”

Some elected officials like to point to this program or that, but Zito says that’s far too simple an explanation for why crime is, or in some cases was, down.

“A lot of things happened, simultaneously, and no one knows exactly what drove that decline. It was most likely 10 or 20 factors happening, simultaneously,” Zito said. “One factor explains about 10% of the variation, another about 5% of the variation. Some of it has to do with factors having to do with law enforcement or incarceration. But other factors having to do with the economy. It’s all over the place.”

To some degree, Zito says, we should expect to see the numbers increase during the warmer months.

“This is actually true in any year with homicide,” she said. “There is a seasonal pattern. So we do always see that once we get into late spring, early summer, that is when homicides tend to increase. We saw that – a much larger increase.”

And it’s the kind of thing that keeps Greensboro Police Chief Brian James up at night.

Ask him what’s at the heart of the matter, and he’ll quickly tell you it’s the easy access to so many guns that the public has.

“Our primary focus, from a law enforcement standpoint, is getting the guns off the street, so we’re doing that,” James said about the 1,400 guns his department has seized so far this year. “There are other issues, though, that we in the community have to address, and we certainly can’t do it all from a law enforcement perspective.”

The department’s greatest resource, James believes, is the public: the people who are there every day and can let the police know about issues before they turn into crimes.

He’s making the effort to build trust with the community to do just that.

“We go out in communities. We’ve walked in communities. We’ve gone door-to-door and introduced ourselves, and, by and large, people are glad to see us. They want to know who we are. They want to tell us what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” James said.

See more about the spike in deadly gun crime in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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