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Providence experiences uptick in homicides, aggravated assault in 2020

Statistics released by the Providence Police Department reveal that other types of violent crime remain in decline

Providence experienced a significant increase in homicides and shootings in 2020, according to statistics released by the Providence Police Department. But the number of other violent crimes — such as robberies and sex offenses — have all seen declines.

Compared to 2019, the number of homicides increased by 29 percent — from 14 to 18 instances in 2020 — while aggravated assaults with firearms increased by 17 percent, from 110 to 129. The first homicide of 2020 did not happen until March, and April saw a 53 percent decrease in violent crime before violence picked up during the summer and fall months. The number of gunshot victims rose from 35 in 2019 to 73 in 2020. 

Ben Smith, deputy director of communications for Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office, said that the uptick in homicides in 2020 was an outlier among historic lows in crime in Providence throughout recent years. Smith credited this trend to the City’s commitment to community-based policing, which emphasizes building relationships between police officers and communities.

Still, Smith acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a part in the increase in homicides in 2020.

“It’s been harder to get people together in person, and people don’t have the same social supports that they’re able to rely on in simpler times,” he said.

Violent crime is not something that can necessarily be mitigated through policing, Smith added, “because the police are retroactively responding to these shootings.” Instead, he said, the City is focusing on building support networks to prevent violence in the first place.

One component of this support system is the Nonviolence Institute, a Providence-based organization dedicated to promoting nonviolent responses to “potentially violent situations” and to providing direct support for victims of violent crimes, according to its website.

Lisa Pina-Warren, director of victim services and street outreach at the Nonviolence Institute, said that the organization aided 320 victims of violent crime at the Rhode Island Hospital in 2020 — an increase of 150 victims from 2019. 

According to Pina-Warren, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nonviolence Institute has observed increases in both homelessness and the rate of violence in the homeless community. She believes that the stresses of the pandemic — such as people losing their employment and housing — has contributed to this uptick in violence.

Additionally, Pina-Warren has observed that more people have felt increasingly defensive during the pandemic, which may have also contributed to this increase.

But, the “great relationship” between the PPD and the Nonviolence Institute has allowed the organization to connect with and support victims, Pina-Warren said.

In response to the increase in shootings during the summer, the Mayor’s office also instituted a voluntary gun buyback program in October, Smith said. Through this initiative, more than 200 guns were ultimately collected.

This summer’s demonstrations for racial justice, which protested police brutality, have also changed the way the City thinks about policing, Smith said. In particular, the Office of Public Safety has been communicating with various community supports, including housing services, mental health organizations and drug use centers, to set up a diversion program that would allow those services to respond before involving the police.


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