TRENTON – Murders increased last year in New Jersey at the fastest pace per capita since 2003, though not as much as they did nationally, according to data in an annual FBI crime report issued Monday.

The murder rate in New Jersey climbed from 3 per 100,000 residents in 2019 to 3.7 per 100,000 in 2020, up 23%, reaching the highest it has been since 2016. But the national murder rate rose faster, from 5.1 to 6.5 between those two years, reaching a level last seen in 1997.

New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said the same factors driving the increase nationally are happening in New Jersey.

“I do think the pandemic, the stressors caused by that, and I think at the heart of it lies illegal crime guns in the hands of violent recidivist offenders,” Callahan said.

“That weapon used in Newark, we’ve seen it used in Trenton. We’ve then seen it used in Atlantic City,” he said. “And our ability to focus in on not only on those violent offenders but also in getting those crime guns off the streets is where we’re working with all of our federal, state, county and local partners.

FBI report on homicides by year (Townsquare Media NJ)
FBI report on homicides by year (Townsquare Media NJ)

Callahan said that on Sunday on Interstate 78, nine illegal handguns were recovered in a traffic stop. Gov. Phil Murphy said 80% of guns used in crimes in New Jersey are trafficked into New Jersey from out of state and called that “maddening.”

Uniform crime report summaries on the New Jersey State Police website show the number of murders increased from 262 in 2019 to 329 last year, an increase of 67, nearly 26%.

That included increases from 20 to 41 in Mercer County, from 12 to 31 in Union County, from four to 16 in Salem County and from 20 to 31 in Passaic County.

The trend continues in 2021. Callahan said the number of shooting murder victims is up 15% year-to-date compared to 2020.

“I don’t think we’re immune to an increase in violent crime. That’s an American reality,” Murphy said. “… I think the pandemic is probably a big factor in terms of the stress, the mental stresses that are put on so many folks.”

New Jersey’s murder rate is generally lower than the nation’s rate, though the two were identical in 2013 at 4.5 per 100,000 residents. The ratio between the rates – and thus, the relative safety in New Jersey compared to the nation as a whole – last year was the highest it has been since 1996.

FBI report on violent crime by year (Townsquare Media NJ)
FBI report on violent crime by year (Townsquare Media NJ)

While the overall violent crime rate rose nationally for the first time in four years in 2020, reaching a level not experienced since 2010, that rate fell in New Jersey for the ninth consecutive year and 25th in the last 27.

The FBI says the violent crime rate in New Jersey in 2020 was 195.4 per 100,000 residents. The rate is down by more than half since 1999, when it last topped 400 per 100,000, and by more than two-thirds since 1994, when it last topped 600 per 100,000.

The rate of rapes fell by nearly 17% between 2019 and 2020. Robbery rates fell 23%. But not all the trends were good: Aggravated assault rates were up 5% and were at their highest level since 2013.

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A similar story exists among nonviolent crimes. The rate of property crimes declined by 15% in 2020 in New Jersey, the most in more than 35 years. The rate has been cut by more than half since 2005.

Burglary rates were down more than 20%. Theft rates were down 13%. Car theft rates were down but only slightly, less than 1%.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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