July 10, 2020


For today’s Critical Issues Report, PERF spoke with police executives from three agencies that have seen increases in homicides and other violent crimes in their jurisdictions: New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Miami-Dade. 2020 has been an unusual year for crime rates. A recent New York Times review of crime data from 25 large cities found homicides in those cities are up 16.1% compared to last year, while total violent crime is down 2% and overall crime is down 5.3% in those cities.

The three police officials discussed the local factors impacting homicides and other crimes in their cities. They also provided an update on COVID-19 response in their areas.


New Orleans Superintendent Shaun Ferguson:

Our Officers Are Stressed, and Homicides Are Up

Crime Trends

Our homicides are up. We had 92 compared to 61 at the same time last year. In recent weeks we’ve seen isolated incidents, like road rage or arguments at stores or gas stations, that have escalated to violence. A few also may be related to neighborhood activities that we’re dealing with.

Homicides were up significantly in both April and June, and they have been all over the map. They haven’t necessarily been domestic violence-related, although we have identified a few acquaintance cases. There have been narcotics-related cases, and some have been gang-related.

Nonfatal shootings have increased more than 20%. We’re still down for the year in armed robberies, but we’ve seen an increase in those over the last month.

I think some individuals have become more brazen because of the outcry against police. Our criminal element has become bolder with what they’re trying to do and challenging authority.

Officer Mindset

Our officers transitioned from Mardi Gras into COVID response, when we were very disengaged, to avoid spreading the virus. Now, after this civil unrest, our officers are dealing with more of a mental or emotional process that we’re trying to overcome, to keep them focused. They want to do their job, but they don’t want to escalate a situation and become the next national news story. We remain engaged and have made numerous arrests, but we’re seeing individuals who are using violence when interacting with one another.

I’ve been trying to motivate officers and reassure them that as long as they’re following their training, they will have my utmost support.


New Orleans is in Phase 2 of reopening, so our bars are open now. We definitely have more people out, which is concerning. The additional people out on the streets could be contributing to some of the violence.

Louisiana’s COVID numbers have started to spike. Our mayor and our health department director have warned that we could go back to Phase 1 if we don’t see the proper response.


Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner Melvin Singleton:

Civil Unrest and Protests Are Reducing Our Street Response

Through July 8, homicides have increased by 29% in Philadelphia compared to the same period in 2019. As of July 5, aggravated assaults with a gun had increased by 21.6% year-to-date, while other aggravated assaults had decreased by 7%. Robberies with a gun had decreased by 6.2%, and other robberies had decreased 13.5%.

Crime Trends

We’re seeing some brazenness from our offenders, but other factors contribute to our homicide increases. We have case law that officers cannot stop someone only because they see a gun in their possession. That’s hazardous to officers, especially in parts of the city with a lot of shootings. Criminals know they can carry a gun from point A to point B, which makes them more brazen about carrying guns.

In addition to that, when we do make arrests for guns, the bail has not been consistent. The district attorney’s office has assigned two prosecutors to each division within the police department, which allows us to provide them with real-time information so they understand that not every gun arrest is equal. We have to look at individuals’ backgrounds and which groups they identify with, to make sure that we don’t only charge them with being in possession of a firearm. For a very long time, we saw inconsistent and often very low bail for firearms charges, but we’re working to fix that problem.

In Philadelphia there are parts of our city with corner drug organizations that settle disputes with guns. We see our gangs on social media filming themselves going into other gang territory and calling out the other gang. Later, we’ll see violence as the result of that.

In our East Division, most homicides are drug-related. In other parts of the city, it’s a mixed bag of drug-related and gang disputes on social media that escalate. We had a number of officers out due to COVID, which impacts our deployment strategy.

Officer Wellness

With COVID, officers are concerned about their safety and the safety of their families. I think that impacts officers’ performance. So we’re focusing on officer wellness. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw brought in an officer wellness program, to make sure we reach out to our officers. She’s trying to enact an early warning program, to make sure we identify officers who need help and get it to them.

Civil Unrest

The civil unrest has been constant and ongoing in Philadelphia, and we need heavy deployment to keep opposing groups away from each other. We’ve seen more demonstrations than ever before, and it has lasted from morning into the night. It requires us to consistently pull officers into protest response, and that takes away from the street response. That has contributed to a reduced number of officers on the street in our pinpoint areas, where we are focusing our data-driven, intelligence-led, offender-focused resources. Some of those areas are not as heavily policed as they should be, and that is impacting our violence.


Miami-Dade Chief Richard Amion:

COVID Is Increasing and Pushing Us Back to Phase 1

As of July 5, homicides had increased by 23.7% year-to-date in Miami-Dade. Aggravated assaults had increased by 18.6% year-to-date, while robbery had decreased by almost 28%.

Crime Trends

I don’t know if the COVID-19 pandemic is having an effect on homicides. We’ve had an uptick in domestic violence murders. We’ve had eight domestic murders since January. Prior to the pandemic, we had an issue with drug-related shootings, which probably drove our aggravated assault numbers up. We’re doing pretty well in other violent crime categories. We’re down in robberies. We’re down in forcible sex offenses. We’re up in homicides. And we have a glaring increase in aggravated assaults. We attribute most of those to retaliatory shootings from the homicides we’ve had. Thankfully for us, they’re mostly bad shots and haven’t made contact, because our shootings with contact have been a little bit lower.

We had a decrease in homicides as we reopened. From May to June, our homicides went down from 11 to 3. Our forcible sex offenses, aggravated assaults, and aggravated batteries went down as well. I don’t know if it’s an anomaly, but many categories of violent crime went down as we reopened.

The homicides primarily involve drug-related gangs. These shootings would’ve taken place whether we had COVID or not. When we shut down the county, a lot of these individuals would not stay home. They continued their drug-related rampage, which resulted in a lot of shootings.


Regarding the pandemic, we opened up restaurants, gyms, and some of the mom-and-pop stores as part of Phase 2. Unfortunately, a lot of Miami-Dade residents were not wearing face masks, and some would be disruptive and combative towards business owners who asked them to wear a mask. Now we’re going back to Phase 1, because COVID numbers are rapidly rising and our hospital bed space is diminishing.

The mayor had to reimpose restaurant closures, except for take-out and delivery. When we did reopen restaurants, people were not social distancing. Several restaurants had to be closed down, and some have been fined.

We had our beaches closed from July 3-6, and those have since reopened. We’ll see how people behave. If they continue to violate, we’ll have to shut down everything and be back to square one. 


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.

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