PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Several Valley cities saw increases in homicides and aggravated assaults during 2020, as Arizona and the rest of the country dealt with the isolating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

CBS 5 Investigates reviewed and analyzed crime data from cities across Maricopa County, as well as reports and studies of crime trends from cities across the country.

Phoenix, Mesa and Chandler are three Valley cities that saw significant increases in homicides last year. Scottsdale and Maricopa County also saw increases in homicide reports.

file photo of crime scene

Maricopa County saw an increase in homicide reports.

But criminal justice researchers and experts caution that the one-year increase does not necessarily mean we are at the beginning of a trend.

"I think the thing you have to, we have to first start at, is, you know, one year is not a trend. One year, it could be an anomaly," said Andrew LeFevre, who is the executive director of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

The commission is creating a system that would compile complete crime data from across the state.

LeFevre says it would be difficult to make meaningful recommendations after just one year of increases in crime, given last year's unusual atmosphere. The country experienced a pandemic and widespread protests against police.

"Maybe it ends up being it was COVID, or it was a combination of factors. We need to not make rash decisions based on one year's worth of data unless there's clearly is something that comes out that says this happened because of X," said LeFevre.

The spike in homicides and other violent crimes took place in cities across the country.

The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice examined violent crime in 34 cities. The resulting report indicates that homicides increased in 29 of those 34 cities.

"What's happening seems to be happening all around the country," said Thomas Abt, who is a co-author of the report.

Abt says the largest increase in homicides was between young men in urban areas. He calls these "underserved areas with little hope or opportunity."

But he argues that political and community leaders can take action to curb the spike before it becomes a trend.

COVID-19 patient in hospital

Researchers are looking into what impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the increase in crime.

The report makes three recommendations. One is to beat the COVID-19 outbreak quickly because of the social and economic strife it has caused. The second recommendation is to restore community trust in police and the justice system, following last year's protests over police misconduct. The final recommendation is to implement programs that have been proven to reduce crime in urban areas.

Phoenix police Chief Jeri Williams reflects on 2020, looks ahead to 2021

"There are concrete policies that drive violence down. If you don't do them, you'll have higher levels of violence. And if you do implement them, you'll have lower levels of violence," said Abt. "And so I'd really just like the public to know that there are solutions available that they should demand," he said.

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
 
 

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