COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As cities across America see an increase in violent crime, Columbus outpaces the nation.
The Major Cities Chiefs Association collected data from 63 local law enforcement agencies in major metropolitan areas, comparing first-quarter violent crime rates in 2020 and 2021.
When looking at data from all 63 agencies combined, homicides increased roughly 29% — from 1,337 in January through March of last year to 1,721 in the same time this year.
The Columbus Division of Police, which is part of MCCA but was one of seven agencies not included in its report, recorded 29 homicides during the first three months of 2020 and 48 during that same time period in 2021.
That’s an increase of more than 65%.
In comparison, Cincinnati saw 14 homicides in early 2020 and 13 in early 2021 (-7.14%), and Cleveland recorded 22 in early 2020 and 36 in early 2021 (+63.64%).
Among the 64 cities or counties for which data is available, Columbus ranked 16th in its percent increase in homicides in early 2021 compared to early 2020, and it ranked seventh in the raw number increase.
Columbus also saw the highest percent increase among the 16 cities/counties with 29 or more homicides early last year; outpacing cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Detroit.
Police look for answers
Cmdr. Robert Strausbaugh of Columbus’ Major Crimes Bureau said he does not know exactly why the increase in homicides is so drastic locally, but he does have some ideas.
“I really wish I could put my thumb on it, so that we can address it with either our law enforcement partners or our community partners, but I really don’t know,” he said.
Strausbaugh suggested the pandemic played a role in the increase in violent crime, particularly among young people.
“Kids not being in school and having more time on their hands — because if you look at our demographics, our homicide victims and our homicide suspects are 18 to 30,” he said.
Strausbaugh also pointed to a strained relationship between the community and law enforcement.
“I also attribute it to the civil unrest from last year,” Strausbaugh said. “Trust is a big thing, and it was severely, severely severed in 2020.” He explained that a lack of trust means a lack of witnesses coming forward, and that leads to fewer homicides being solved.
Other sides of the conversation
Not everyone agrees, however, on where the lack of trust originates.
“That conversation just didn’t start in 2020 or in 2021,” said DaVante Goins, who launched a news outlet for Columbus’ Black community called The Unbossed Network. “That’s been a topic of conversation for many, many years.”
“As a result of this egregious act that happened with George Floyd — a reaction to police brutality — is the increase in homicide up? I don’t agree with that at all, and I don’t agree with the suggestion at the bottom of it either,” said Pastor Derrick Holmes, an advocate for more equity in policing.
“We have to stop this idea that that communities that demand more equitable policing does not mean that there’s this hostile view of policing, period.”
Regardless of when the trust was broken, there’s agreement that policing alone will not make communities safer.
“We need to have that extra support from the community,” Strausbaugh said. “Put aside everything that’s been said about the policing profession, and let’s make our community safer.”
“When we understand that it’s not the community versus the police, or the police versus the community — when we understand that, then we start understanding that there are better ways to decrease crime that don’t involve increasing police presence,” Holmes said.
The Columbus Division of Police has recorded 95 homicides in 2021 as of Thursday.
Friday is the first day on the job for Elaine Bryant, the city’s new police chief. Bryant has said previously that she will not make any immediate changes, and that her plan is to listen to people in the community and within the department before taking significant action.