Will we see a post-Covid surge in London murders?

Homicides in 2022 (so far) are down compared to previous years, despite an increase over recent weeks.

The Metropolitan Police’s own statistics show there were 49 homicides in the first six months, which suggested at that time we might be on course to record less than 100 homicides in a year for the first time since 2014 (when the total was 95).

There have been some signs of an increasing trend in the last two months. July was relatively busy for homicide detectives (the Met stats show 11 cases in July), which upped the average and puts London on course for around 103 homicides this year. [Update 17/8: This trend has continued in August, with at least nine homicides in the month so far].

This interactive graph of homicides in London takes its cue from those charts of rising Covid case totals, but with years instead of different countries. You can see 2022 is running well ‘behind’ the previous four years.

That would still be a significant decrease compared to the years 2018 to 2021 (138, 152, 133, 133 respectively). It’s also notable that there have been far fewer teenage homicides, with seven so far this year compared to 22 at this stage last year, which ended with a record total of 30.

If we accept the theory that homicides in 2020 and 2021 were suppressed by the Covid pandemic (legal restrictions on movement and socialising plus general changes to behaviour), then we might expect the number of murders to increase again once things ‘return to normal’.

Legal restrictions ended mid-July 2021 but there was no obvious increase and 2021 ended with the same total as 2020. Legal testing requirements only ended in February 2022, and it is likely that the continuing waves of Covid over the past winter and this summer are still having an effect.

Another possibility is that the police and other agencies are managing to suppress more homicides this year, possibly spurred on by bad headlines resulting from the record number of teenage homicides last year. The number of Metropolitan Police officers increased from 31,063 in March 2019 to 34,895 in June 2022, although we don’t how much this has helped the Met’s Homicide and Major Crime unit.

At the same time we should probably bear in mind that the ‘cost of living crisis’ could also have an effect over the coming months, such as increasing stress at home (domestic violence) or making it more likely that people get involved in risky situations that end up in fatal violence (e.g. theft, robbery, drugs).

(Update 17/8: Another possibility is that violence has increased because of the recent heatwaves (17-19 July and 9-17 August), with research from around the world suggesting a link between higher temperatures and higher rates of murder/homicide.)

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