While overall crime dropped in the commonwealth, the number of murders rose last year, by more than 58%. There were 405 in 2019, and that number jumped to 640 in 2020.
Drug offenses made up more than 1 in 5 arrests in Kentucky, the most of any crime. A criminologist at the University of Kentucky said the pandemic just exacerbated a problem the state was already struggling with.
“Kentucky is hit especially hard by some of the drug epidemics that are going on now and being stressed out because of the pandemic, with a whole pandemic, it’s not going to make drug use lower,” Criminologist Dr. Tony Love said.
People who work in addiction recovery said it’s likely that many crimes that aren’t considered drug crimes, like property thefts and robberies, still have addiction as an underlying cause.
“You’ll see statistics anywhere from 70 to 80% of individuals incarcerated are believed to have an underlying substance use disorder or something of that nature that contributed to their crime,” said Pat Fogarty with Addiction Recovery Care.
Overall, the number of people arrested dropped during the pandemic– 293,084 were arrested in 2020 compared to 432,162 in 2019.
Dr. Love said the reasons for that could include a shortage of police, and a changing attitude toward certain drugs.
“More and more we as a community tolerate drug use, or think that certain drugs should be legal, the less likely people will be to report those offenses,” Dr. Love said.
Going forward, experts say the best way to keep some people from going back to prison, is getting them help for the reason they went in in the first place.
“Drug court and diversion programs are critical to the well-being of Kentuckians. Highly successful in many areas. And it’s a wonderful motive to have someone in treatment,” Fogarty said.
Along with homicides, arson and bribery arrests also went up from 2019 to 2020.