Could COVID be the cause of Buffalo's crime uptick?

Homicides have increased 36% since 2019 in Buffalo
Posted at 2:00 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 23:46:35-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A spike in violence was seen nationwide and permeated during the pandemic, with social unrest and crime reaching levels not seen in several years, including in Buffalo.

Could COVID be the cause?

“The pandemic has had, I think it’s fair to say, complex effects on the violent crime increases that we’ve seen,” said Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, former president of the American Society of Criminology and criminologist at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.

Dr. Richard Rosenfeld has studied how the pandemic has affected crime in 29 cities across the country, including Buffalo.

“We continue to see elevated homicide rates and other indicators of firearm violence, but it appears as though those increases are slowing somewhat,” said Rosenfeld.

Buffalo saw that increase - especially in the beginning 2021.

“It started right around the end of May [of 2020] is when shootings really took off throughout the whole summer. It really continued into the fall, then it kept on going right into 2021, right through the first half of the year,” said Buffalo Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.

In the first quarter of 2021, shooting victims were up about 94 percent compared to the previous year. The number of victims remains high, but has slowed to an increase of about nine percent.

“There’s a lot that goes into that,” said Gramaglia. “All of our community efforts completely ramped up - the operation VIPER and taking violent offenders off the street has had a significant impact.”

Homicides remain elevated in Buffalo

An analysis of data provided by Buffalo Police to the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team shows homicides have increased 36% since 2019.

This year there have been 55 homicides through September. 65 people were killed throughout the entirety of 2020. In 2019 there were only 44 homicides in total.

Finding Community Solutions

“It’s a pandemic of its own. It’s an epidemic whenever you have violence that repeatedly and repeatedly occurs and occurs,” said Pastor Tim Newkirk of GYC Ministries.

Deputy Commissioner Gramaglia says these statistics are more than numbers. They’re people. And the only way to stop the violence is through the community’s help.

“These are people we’re talking about. Every number, every percentage represents an actual live human being,” Gramaglia said.

"If you can’t go to a birthday party, if you can’t go to a basketball court, if you can’t go to a park and have a good time without worrying about someone picking up a gun and using it on you and taking your life, then this city is definitely in bad shape,” said Newkirk.

Of the 55 homicides this year, only 20 percent have been solved. Gramaglia says it’s because witnesses are not willing to publicly come forward to the court.

“We are very certain on some cases who did it, and we are absolutely positive on some other cases at who did it, but there’s a difference between what we know and what we can present in court.”

Pastor Newkirk says it’s that very solve rate that leads to uncooperative witnesses.

“People don’t feel that telling or giving out any information does any good because the perpetrators usually walk away or they’re still seen in the community,” said Newkirk. “That’s when the families and the victims feel like they’re threatened for their life and there’s no one there to protect them so they’re not going to give up that information.”

Newkirk says the only way to change that is by building positive relationships. Gramaglia cited efforts to build relationships in the community as what led to the decrease in shootings this past month, and it’s exactly what police plan to continue to do.

“They’ve reached into their own pockets and networked with the community. It's been very popular. We’ve had a lot of support,” Gramaglia added.