PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota saw a sizable spike in homicides in 2020, according to recently released numbers from the state Attorney General's Office.
The total homicides jumped to 37 last year, compared with only 16 the year prior — a whopping 131% increase. Over the past five years, the highest number of murders came in 2016, with 21.
The bulk of the rise came in the state's two largest cities, Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but criminal homicides were also reported in smaller communities, such as rural Hamlin County.
The numbers do not include homicides on tribal lands, according to the AG's office. The FBI reported 16 murders in Indian Country in 2019.
A spokesperson for the AG did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but a Rapid City Police Department spokesman said while no definitive answer drives murder in the state, much can be traced to a "nexus" to substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol, in the state.
"These are not happening randomly," said Brendyn Medina, RCPD spokesman. "They could be under the influence, or it could be some sort of overdose on drugs themselves, a drug deal, or drug debt."
Medina also noted that while the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have caused a surge in other crimes, including car thefts, burglaries, vandalism, and juvenile offenses, investigators do not see a link with homicide in the western city.
"As far as I've seen in our investigations, nobody outright said, 'I murdered that guy because I was cooped up because of all this COVID stuff,'" said Medina.
The numbers are self-reported by counties and pull from a National Incident-Based Reporting System. Ninety-four percent of agencies in the state participate.
Violent crime across the U.S. spiked nationally in 2020, with over 19,000 persons killed in firearm-related incidents — the highest total in two decades. A separate report found violent crime rose in 28 American cities during the pandemic.
South Dakota's report notes nearly all the homicides involve a victim and perpetrator who knew each other. Of the 37 victims, 27 men, and 13 were Native American.