Homicides in major U.S. and Canadian cities have increased 50% and aggravated assaults have risen 39% between January and June since the same time period in 2019, according to data released Friday by the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA).
Compared to last year, however, homicides are down slightly, with 4,511 reported in major U.S. cities between January and June, compared to 4,626 between January and June of 2021. Aggravated assaults have increased, with more than 156,700 incidents reported over that time period this year compared to more than 152,700 last year.
"What we have noticed is that once COVID started, it changed the matrix," MCCA Executive Director Laura Cooper told Fox News Digital. "We don't want to be in a position to say, well … violent crime maybe isn't that high. It is really high compared to what it was before COVID started. That's why we've gone back and we're comparing data that we have now - even data that we had last year - to 2019 numbers."
MCCA gathered data directly from the 70 U.S. cities and nine Canadian cities that are part of the organization.
Based on that data, as well as what chiefs of those cities have told the organization, "the numbers are surprising and they're not surprising," Cooper said. She added that the numbers are "shocking because they are so bad" and "a true reflection of what we've been seeing play out" in the media and within city law enforcement agencies.
What's behind the continued rise since 2019?
" I think the anti-law-enforcement sentiment that we saw play out, especially during 2020 did contribute, but I think it's even more granular than that. Access to firearms and the amount of guns that are on the street … can be directly correlated to the amount of homicides we have, especially compared to 2019," Cooper said.
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MCCA also released its "The State of Gun Violence in America's Major Cities August 2022" report on Friday, which notes that the United States saw the highest firearm homicide rate in more than 25 years in 2020, with 79% of all homicides that year involving a firearm - representing a 35% increased year-over-year since 2019.
While firearm homicides increased among men and women in both metropolitan and urban areas, Black American men between the ages of 10 and 44 were most impacted by the increasing firearm homicide rate, the report notes.
MCCA also reported an increase in firearms being stolen from vehicles in major cities. The Nashville Police Department, for example, reported 1,259 guns stolen out of vehicles in 2021, representing more than 70% of the 1,789 guns stolen from Nashville residents in total that year.
"Whether the guns are in an unlocked vehicle or if they are broken into … it's pretty astounding the numbers that we cited of guns that have been stolen out of vehicles." Cooper said. "People need to be held to a higher standard if they're going to be responsible gun owners."
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The organization also noted a sizable increase in the number of ghost guns - or guns that are made illegally by unlicensed manufacturers or with 3D printers and have no serial numbers - being recovered off the streets in major cities.
As a result of increasing firearm numbers and firearm homicides, Cooper says communities - especially juveniles - are becoming desensitized to violent crime and shootings.
Witnesses and victims of gun crimes alike can experience trauma from shootings, which, if untreated, can result in desensitization to violence, shootings and death, according to MCCA's reporyt.
"We were really trying to highlight the fact that gun violence isn't about just the trigger puller and the person that they shoot," Cooper explained. "It reverberates way farther than that, and it really negatively impacts the community. Sense of security is a huge factor."
Law enforcement agencies have more frequently been trying to approach matters of violence with a trauma-based approach.
"When homicide detectives go out to the scene, it's not just them looking exactly at what happened with that … trigger puller and victim. It's more of a cohesive look," Cooper said. "A lot of times the kids that are there that witnessed [a shooting], they become desensitized. And maybe that's a contributing factor to this whole sanctity of life issue where they have become so desensitized because they see this violence play out day in and day out and it becomes commonplace."
There has been a "noticeable shift in respecting the sanctity of life," said Cooper, who believes the trend needs to be further examined by law enforcement departments and academia.
"It is certainly something that is playing out on the streets, where you can spray people with bullets indiscriminately, and people don't think that there's anything wrong with that, or they think that's a better way to start conflict," she explained. "That in and of itself is very shocking. And that's been a drastic change, I think, from 2019."
District attorneys and judges in urban areas, specifically, have implemented policies in recent years that aim to reduce large U.S. prison populations but can also ultimately allow repeat offenders back on the streets to commit further crimes after they are arrested and processed for previous crimes.
Cooper described some of these policies as "a complete disservice to" communities.
"Cities …are dealing with district attorneys and charging decisions and judges who are really just not holding career criminals accountable," Cooper explained. "And there tends to be this cyclical nature that we're seeing. People go in one door and they come out and they go right back in the other. They're not being held accountable in the way they should be."
Cooper added that violence is "about the consequences."
"There's not a whole lot of deterrence in certain places that would make someone think twice before pulling the trigger, and that's very disconcerting, especially we're talking about youth violence and the amount of juveniles that have been involved in a lot of pretty violent and heinous crimes," she said
Each city takes a slightly different approach to tackling violent crime, but Cooper used Dallas as an example when asked what solutions law enforcement departments and communities might consider when trying to address the violence.
Dallas, she said, has partnered with criminologists who "broke the city up into grids" to focus on the "worst of the worst" areas of the city in terms of violent crime. Police have recognized that outdated policing techniques are "long gone," and they are "more focused on strategic enforcement and smart policing" targeting the most dangerous criminals.
"You can't arrest your way out of this problem," she said.