For today’s Daily Critical Issues Report, PERF spoke with police chiefs in medium-size and small agencies that have experienced significant increases in some categories of violent crimes this year, particularly aggravated assault and homicide.

This is part of our series of reports on violent crime trends. Click on the links below to view the previous reports in this series:


Key Takeaways

-- Causes of violent crime varied in the cities reporting increases, and included:

  • Group-related violence by young gang members who, in some cases, are not attending school because of COVID, or who have lost their jobs.
  • Personal disputes that quickly escalate when a firearm is present.
  • Domestic violence, aggravated by stay-at-home orders.

-- In some cases, crime rates declined during the early months of COVID lockdown orders, but then increased sharply during the summer months.

-- As with larger departments, these agencies are closely analyzing their shots fired and other violent incidents, and implementing strategies based on those analyses. 


Cedar Rapids, IA Chief Wayne Jerman

As of September 30, the Cedar Rapids Police Department recorded an increase in homicides from 4 to 10, a 25% increase in aggravated assaults, a 46% decrease in rapes, and a 3% increase in robberies year to date compared to 2019. 

We have a gang or group violence issue. We look at it as hybrid gangs. They’re not Bloods, Crips, or MS-13. They’re your neighborhood kids who have grown up and, for whatever reason, they choose to settle their disputes with firearms. The majority of our nonfatal shootings are connected to these disputes, and in some cases it has resulted in homicides.

We just started a group violence intervention program through the National Network for Safe Communities. We were fortunate enough to get an anonymous grant, and that has just kicked off.

Sexual assaults and rapes are down.

This year is absolutely different. Out of our 10 homicides, three have been cleared as domestic-related. Six are connected to this gang or group violence. And one of the 10 was a purely random act and is still open.

I think COVID has had an impact, especially with the aggravated assaults. Schools have been closed since March, so these youths, who predominantly make up these groups or gangs, have a lot of free time on their hands. Their perceived disrespect of other gang or group members escalated into these shootings.

And for those who are old enough to be employed, COVID has caused some to lose their jobs. That can be a factor.  

We engage in hot spots policing, using crime data from our analysts to determine which areas are seeing an increase in criminal activity. And we’re deploying our personnel accordingly. We also have a proactive Police/Community Action Team (PCAT) that focuses on these gangs or groups. We’ve conducted a social network analysis to identify these groups and their members.


Elgin, IL Chief Ana Lalley

As of September 30, the Elgin Police Department recorded no change in homicides (with 1 each year), a 159% increase in aggravated assaults, an 11% increase in rapes, and a 19% decrease in robberies year to date compared to 2019. 

Here in Elgin, our aggravated assaults have increased. It’s partially due to the increase in our aggravated firearm discharge incidents. Year to date, we’ve had 54 incidents involving gunfire. Last year we were in the mid-20s, so that’s a huge increase for us. Of those 54, 8 involved people who were actually shot.

Out of those 54 cases, 15 arrests have been made, some of which closed several of the cases. About 18 of those are related to some type of gang motivation. For the rest it’s hard to determine, because we’re just showing up and seeing evidence of shots fired, but nothing further to go on.

When we can determine a motivation, it’s often about personal disputes. Some of it is opportunity. Some of it is reckless conduct. We’ve had several where someone was just shooting up in the air.

We do a quarterly gunfire report, and every month I do a Facebook video where I talk about our crime stats. So we’ve been involving our community in discussing the increases we’re seeing. We’re also working on a public service announcement about what we’ve seen this year.

We’re still on track for our overall crime rate to be lower than it was last year. But we’ve seen a spike in this gunfire category.

At the end of the year, we’re going to try to analyze the cause of this spike. That may involve talking to victims to get their views on why this is happening. Does it have to do with unemployment, or opportunity, or mental health issues? I don’t have a definite answer now, but COVID and the whole environment have shifted what policing is. This year has definitely been a unique year.


Hastings, MN Chief Bryan Schafer

As of September 30, the Hastings Police Department recorded 1 homicide, compared to 0 last year, and a 129% increase in aggravated assaults, a 50% decrease in rapes, and a 100% increase in robberies year to date compared to 2019. 

Hastings is a city of about 23,000 people on the Mississippi River, about 30 minutes southeast of the Twin Cities. Luckily, the events in Minneapolis really have not impacted us. There’s more activity to the west of us, and we all work together. So it impacts staffing levels because we are all helping one another.

Our violence has been local, not from the Twin Cities. Most of our aggravated assaults are domestic violence. We’re seeing the same amount of guns being used in domestic violence, but there’s also a lot of knives and other weapons used in domestics this year compared to last year.

Minnesota went into a lockdown in the middle of March, and did a partial reopening in June. Our aggravated assaults went up in those three months of lockdown, and there was definitely a correlation between lockdown measures and aggravated assaults/domestic violence.  

When we went into lockdown, we changed modes by taking more calls by phone and totally reeling back the proactive work. It became reactive and answering the major calls. We saw our crime decline almost 40% between March and June. Now we’re only down 14%, so we gained most of that back and have gone back to proactive work. We’re pretty much back to pre-COVID levels of activity.


Fife, WA Chief Peter Fisher

As of September 30, the Fife Police Department recorded an increase in homicides from 1 to 2, a 157% increase in aggravated assaults, a 42% decrease in rapes, and a 27% increase in robberies year to date compared to 2019. 

We’re a city of just over 10,000 people in 5.7 square miles, about 30 miles south of Seattle. Our protest activity in Pierce County was relatively low-key. We had a lot of events, but no violent crime or property damage.

Washington State took a pretty aggressive stance initially with COVID and went into a lockdown. The police department pulled back most proactive patrols. We got rid of overlapping shifts and reduced the number of officers on shift at any given time. We pushed people to phone and online crime reporting, and discouraged our officers from making traffic stops.

We are a small city, but we have 12 hotels in a very small area. That tends to be the center of the criminal activity we see, both historically and now.

Fife averages about one homicide per year, but we just had our fourth homicide of the year.

There’s been a stay-at-home order and a high level of unemployment. We have large numbers of people gathering in our hotels and motels. There’s a lot of frustration about unemployment and the COVID restrictions. And there’s the lack of proactive patrols. I think that sets us up for these increases.

A lot of our shots fired incidents are in and around our hotels. There are drive-by shootings and arguments that escalate to shots fired. Some of the shots fired are robberies. Each case is different, and it’s hard to identify a trend and a police strategy to address it.


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.