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How crime was down, but homicides were up in Indianapolis in 2020

Temple Road Homicide.JPG
Posted at 2:56 PM, Jan 28, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — At a press conference this month, members of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department broke down the 2020 crime data and how it compared to 2019. In the report, they said although homicides saw a drastic spike, overall crime was down in Indianapolis in 2020.

This led to some confusion and questions to WRTV: How could crime be down if there were so many more homicides in 2020?

The 2020 Numbers

Criminal homicides increased from 153 to 214 in 2020, about a 40% increase. Nonfatal shootings saw a similar increase, from 451 to 639 incidents in 2020.

But crimes in other categories fell, such as robbery, rape, burglary and simple assault.

Knowing that, let’s break down exactly what IMPD means when it said crime was down last year.

In 2019, there were 53,067 crimes reported by IMPD — that includes homicides, robberies, assaults, burglaries, arson and more. In 2020, that number — the total of all crimes — was 48,483. This means there were about 4,500 fewer total crimes in 2020 than in 2019.

But that doesn’t quite show the whole picture of crime in Indianapolis in 2020. Since that system weighs all crimes the same, a huge increase in criminal homicides like Indianapolis experienced from 2019 to 2020 (153 to 214), doesn’t have as much of an impact as the number of simple assaults dropping by about 500.

Put another way — there could’ve been 4,000 criminal homicides in Indianapolis in 2020 and crime would still technically be down.

As you can see in the chart above, criminal homicides make up a very small percentage of total crimes in Indianapolis.

“Crime was down nationally last year,” national crime analyst Jeff Asher said. “That’s only because property crime was down last year. Murder was up 36%. You can say crime was down and that would be accurate … that’s the technical truth. But from a policy standpoint and from a ‘How do we get out of this?’ standpoint, we need to acknowledge that murder being up is so much more important than shoplifting and theft and other types of crime being down.”

Asher is the co-founder of AH Datalytics, a crime data consulting organization.

The Harder Question Why?

Knowing exactly why one section of crime was up in 2020 while so many others were up is likely impossible, but the COVID-19 pandemic could offer a few clues.

Asher said the decreased number of people outside their homes in 2020 may have contributed to the drop in less violent property crimes.

“If there’s not people out and about, you’re going to have fewer people in stores shoplifting,” he said. “You’re going to have fewer people around to rob. If people aren’t leaving their car at the bar and drunkenly forgetting where they parked it, you’re going to have fewer auto thefts, fewer vehicle burglaries.”

Asher said criminal homicides don’t typically follow the same pattern as those crimes. It’s not as random or opportunistic.

“It’s usually between people who know each other or have some kind of relationship and that leads to different things that might influence whether or not murder goes up than whether or not vehicle burglaries go up or down,” he said.

He said you could make an argument that 2021 shouldn’t be as bad as 2020, with the economy expected to at least be better than last year and COVID-19 vaccines on the way. But crime can be difficult to predict and there were other issues in 2020 that weren’t pandemic-related, namely trust in policing.