For the final edition of this series of reports on violent crime trends, PERF spoke with police executives from three agencies that have experienced decreases in homicides and aggravated assaults: Baltimore, MD; Anchorage, AK; and Columbia, SC.

Click on the links below to read previous entries in this series on violent crime:


Key Takeaways

-- The three police departments are focused on improving their homicide and shooting investigations through staffing, training, and technology.

-- Agencies are carefully planning deployment and crime-fighting strategies to best use their limited resources.

-- When demonstrations stay peaceful, police agencies don’t need to pull as many additional resources away from other parts of the city to manage the protests.

-- Agencies have focused on partnerships with community and faith leaders, and other criminal justice partners, as a way to address both crime and public safety during demonstrations. And they’re taking advantage of federal programs such as the National Public Safety Partnership and Crime Gun Intelligence Centers.


Baltimore Commissioner Michael Harrison

As of September 30, the Baltimore Police Department recorded a 4% decrease in homicides (from 256 to 247), a 9% decrease in aggravated assaults, a 27% decrease in rapes, and a 31% decrease in robberies year to date, compared to 2019. 

Our murders are down for the year. Our most recent data are that we’re down 10 murders compared to the same time last year, which is 3%, and down 45 nonfatal shootings, which is 7%.

But we just hit another grim milestone with 300 murders for the sixth straight year. The city has been focused on trying to get under that 300 number.

We’re focusing on managing our men and women well to make sure they’re where the data and intelligence suggest that crimes are likely to be committed, and historically have been committed.

And our officers are out of their cars, engaging the community, and enforcing violations when we see them, in a Constitutional way. We are under a federal consent decree, so how we do things is very important.

We are building a new comprehensive strategy with the incoming mayor, who takes office on December 20. We’re using the focused deterrence model and dealing with the subset of bad actors who are committing the most violence. But until we implement that, we just have a strong deployment strategy. I believe the decrease is due to heavy engagement and heavy visibility in those most affected areas.

We did not see the same level of violence in protests and demonstrations that other cities saw. We had protests starting the same day as everybody else, but after the first day, we had peaceful protests. We coordinated with faith-based leaders, activists, and others from the community to help us police the crowd. That worked very, very well for us. So we didn’t see the violence, and the protests subsided. We still have them from time to time, but to this day they remain peaceful. We have not had any looting, rioting, anything set on fire or destroyed, or injuries to citizens or police officers. And there’s only been one complaint filed the entire time.

During the protests, we had to pull police out of some communities, and we did see some crime increases during that time, but not drastic increases. We were able to really concentrate on those protests and keep them from turning bad. And we had some good will from how we handled the protests flow back into the community.

Our homicide clearance rate is up this year. We had some struggles with that, and PERF did a homicide assessment in Baltimore before I got here. We made sure we were adopting many of the recommendations that came out of the PERF assessment, and we increased the staffing, and improved our formal training. But it was really a staffing and resource allocation problem. We rearranged that to have appropriate staffing, rotations, and supervision over the 24-hour period. I think that has helped us produce better cases.


Anchorage, AK Chief Justin Doll

As of September 30, the Anchorage Police Department recorded a 65% decrease in homicides (from 23 to 8), an 8% decrease in aggravated assaults, a 26% decrease in rapes, and a 1% increase in robberies year to date compared to 2019. 

We have been working with DOJ’s Public Safety Partnership program. DOJ puts together a team to help your agency interface with DOJ’s programs, training, technical assistance, and grant programs. We already have great relationships with our federal partners here in Alaska, and this just helped that along.

With the Public Safety Partnership, we’re focusing on technical assistance. We don’t have a set program in Anchorage that we use to curb violent crime. We had our most homicides ever in 2017, which is the year I was appointed chief. So we’ve focused on our overall crime strategy, to make sure our resources are deployed as effectively as possible and investigators have resources to work their cases. We’re strengthening the partnerships between our investigators and other partner law enforcement agencies and the prosecutors here in Anchorage.

We’ve seen declines in violent crime and property crime for the last 18 months or so. In 2017, 2018, and 2019, we had 27 homicides by this point in the year, and this year we’ve had 15. Our homicides tend to be what I describe as “dispute resolution with firearms.” It’s people arguing over a girl, or dope, or money, and it escalates into violence with guns.

We had demonstrations on and off throughout the summer. We experienced a peak right after the death of George Floyd, and then it just continued off and on throughout the summer. Ours were largely peaceful. We did not have anything that turned violent, nor did we see significant property damage. We’re fortunate that we have a good relationship with the community, and we didn’t see the all-consuming demonstrations like some places.

We’re pushing community outreach and getting our people out of their cars to talk to people. I think that building that relationship pays off in a bunch of different ways, including violent crime and the protests. To me, that’s the most important thing we’re doing.

We did pretty well with COVID early on, and now we’re experiencing the same spike as everyone else. Operationally our goal throughout the pandemic has been to try to maintain normal operations so the public doesn’t see a change in service levels, and I think we’ve been pretty successful at that. We want to reassure the public that we’re still here, we’re still operational, and if you call 9-1-1, we’ll respond like we always do.


Columbia, SC Chief Skip Holbrook

As of September 30, the Columbia Police Department recorded a 17% decrease in homicides (from 18 to 15), a 7% decrease in aggravated assaults, a 6% decrease in rapes, and a 23% decrease in robberies year to date compared to 2019. 

Historically our violent crime rate has been at twice the national average. A lot of our violent crime has been aggravated assaults and nonfatal shootings. We only average 12 to 15 homicides per year, and last year was an aberration for us with 25. This year we’re at 16 gun murders, which is down a couple from this time last year. And our nonfatal shooting victims are down from 74 this time last year to 65.

I think some of the processes we’ve put in place have created an internal investigative culture that’s being embraced by both investigations and patrol. I think that’s what’s causing us to track in a positive direction.

In late 2019, we were one of seven cities awarded a Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC) grant. We went live with our new crime gun intelligence unit in January of this year. I was fortunate to be able to hire a former ATF deputy director to be the coordinator of this unit. She’s the coordinator, and there’s a sergeant, civilian analysts, and a NIBIN analyst who’s embedded in the state police lab. We follow the seven-step program that ATF recommends. It’s all about intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing timely information.

We follow the focused deterrence model. We put a great emphasis on identifying trigger-pullers. We know a small percent of the population is committing most of our violent crimes, so we focus on them. I think that has helped in some neighborhoods that may feel disenfranchised, because we’re very focused on the offenders, as opposed to general enforcement.

We have done three Ceasefire call-ins, following the focused deterrence model. We identify our offenders who are most likely to reoffend and call them in. We’ve had great success with that. Our last one was last year. We called in 30 offenders, and we’ve only had 4 reoffend, so we consider that a success.

During COVID we have found it challenging to maintain the normal community engagement that we pride ourselves on. That’s been a challenge, and we don’t really know the consequences of that yet.

We had two days of significant protests on May 30 and 31. The mayor and council had to issue a curfew, with a total lockdown of the downtown business district from 6 p.m. on the 30th until 6 a.m. on June 1. That was how we ended up restoring some order. 

We’re the state capital, so we were used to assemblies and protests, but this was a new experience for all of us. There was a level of violence and destruction, and it was directed at the police department. We had probably 1,000 people at the doorsteps of the police department for a period of time on the 30th.  We relied on our relationships with the sheriff’s department, state police, and federal officials to help restore order. And we were very fortunate, though we did have some officer injuries and lose a number of vehicles.

I’m very proud of how the city came in overnight after those protests and cleaned everything up so that the average person would never have known that a civil disturbance event had just occurred there. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

We made close to 40 arrests during the two days of protests. Since then, we have formed a task force to review footage from body cameras, surveillance cameras, and private cameras. As a result, we’ve arrested over 100 people for property damage and assaults that occurred during the protests.

This was right in the middle of COVID, and we ultimately had an officer who was right in the middle of the civil unrest test positive and pass away from COVID.

We continued to have daily protests over the next month, then it became more sporadic. All the protests after the 30th and 31st remained civil, and we had some engagement.


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.