Violent crime in Charlotte increased by 15% in 2020, even as the city’s overall crime rate fell significantly.
The spike in violent crimes was driven by an 18% rise in illegal homicides and a 29% rise in aggravated assaults, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings said during a press briefing Thursday, where he called 2020 “a very difficult and challenging year.”
Jennings became chief in July, amid a summer marked by the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in Minneapolis by a White police officer. Those protests continued for weeks in Charlotte.
CMPD reported 122 illegal homicides in 2020, one of the highest totals ever for the city. Jennings said last year’s homicide total may be lowered as prosecutors review cases to determine whether some killings were legally justified. So far, the department has reported six justifiable homicides for 2020.
Despite Charlotte’s rising homicide count — it had 107 illegal killings in 2019 and 57 the year before — the city’s homicide rate is far below its record high in 1993, when a population half the city’s current size saw 123 illegal killings. The 1990s was a period when the illegal drug trade fueled a nationwide spike in homicides.
Robert Dawkins, state organizer for SAFE Coalition NC, said poverty and lack of opportunity are two of the main drivers of Charlotte’s violent crime rate today. He also notes that there needs to be more violence interrupters.
Jennings said Thursday that CMPD will direct more resources toward reducing violent crime, including incorporating adult and youth diversion programs.
Jennings noted that many of the city’s homicides in 2020 involved young people with guns.
“Nothing is more frustrating for me as a police chief…to hear about a homicide where a 15- or a 16-year-old has been shot and killed, and then to find out that it was a 15- or 16-year-old that committed the crime,” he said.
Here’s 2020 breakdown by category:
- property crime down 14%
- violent crime up 16%
- homicides up 18%
- rapes down 17%
- robberies down 8%
- vehicle thefts down 3%
- residential burglaries down 13%
- commercial burglaries down 6%
- arsons up 8%
- aggravated assaults up 29%
- vehicle break-ins down 14%
CMPD made 14,568 arrests in 2020. Of that total, 3,050 were related to violent crimes — 80 more than in 2019.
The city saw a 47% rise in the reported cases of people shootings into occupied homes and vehicles.
Crime Stoppers received 3,220 tips, which led to 162 arrests. Improving police-community relations remains a priority, Jennings said.
“We get our authority from our citizens, and our citizens are going to have a say in how we police their neighborhoods and communities,” he said.
Complaints against police officers decreased to 105 last year from 121 in 2019. Jennings said 75 of those complaints were internal reports.
CMPD officers used force (guns and/or pepper spray) 385 times last year, according to the department. That number was down from 437 incidents in 2019.
Jennings said 168 CMPD employees tested positive for coronavirus. The department received 4,366 Covid-related complaints and conducted 2,554 in-person checks.