Miami criminologist worries about rise in violence during coronavirus pandemic

MIAMI – A renowned criminologist with the University of Miami said Tuesday the coronavirus pandemic is mostly to blame for a rise in violent crime in Miami-Dade County.

Alexis Piquero, the chair of the sociology department at UM, said there was a nationwide increase in violent crime during 2020 that we are already seeing spilling into 2021.

Doctors dealing with the pandemic had to treat the 14 victims of two shootings on Sunday. There were eight injured at a basketball court and six injured outside of a nightclub.

“We are starting off 2021 in a fashion that makes me very uncomfortable not just as a criminologist, but also as a citizen,” Piquero said.

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The concerning trend in most big U.S. cities, starting in March, was a decrease in non-violent offenses and an increase in violent offenses, particularly shootings, according to Piquero.

“Miami is still a relatively safe city compared to cities the size of ours, compared to Dallas, for example, which saw close to 300 murders,” Piquero said.

In Miami-Dade, from 2019 to 2020, homicides increased more than 30% and non-violent offenses decreased by more than 16%, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department.

In addition to the cocaine markets and the gang activity, Piquero attributes the violent offenses to the many ramifications of the pandemic.

“So you add the stress and anxiety of that then you have pent up anger because people want to live their lives the way they want to live their lives,” Piquero said. “Then you add to that an increase in gun sales, gun thefts.”

The pandemic has also changed law enforcement tactics. The need to limit contact affected community policing. The anti-police brutality protests after George Floyd’s death on May 25th in Minneapolis also had an effect on officers’ morale.

The difficulty with finding solutions to the increased violence, Piquero said, is that homicides are typically situational, they’re not planned.

To help reduce the violence, Piquero said community leaders need to figure out what are the police-related solutions and what are the non-police-related solutions.

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.