There were 2,202 homicides last year, 523 more than in 2019. The state's homicide rate also rose from 4.2 to 5.5 homicides per 100,000 people.
2020 had the most homicides since 2007 – when 2,258 people were killed – and the rate was the highest since 2008, according to the new reports from the California Department of Justice.
Black people made up 6.5% of California's population but accounted for 31% of all victims last year. Hispanic people – who made up 39% of the population -- accounted for 45%, while 16% were White.
Of the homicides where the contributing circumstance was known, 34.2% were the result of an argument, 28.2% were gang-related, 8.5% were connected to rape, robbery, or burglary, and 6.7% were domestic violence-related.
Overall violent crime (homicides, assaults, robberies, and rapes) increased slightly, while property crimes dipped 7.7% during the pandemic.
Attorney General Rob Bonta said it was unclear why homicides jumped, but he argued the rise was connected to an increase in gun sales. Of the homicides where a weapon was identified, 74.2% involved a firearm – up from 69% in 2019.
"With more weapons, more economic stagnation, more desperation, I think those are all potential components and drivers of where we are today," he said.
The increase in homicides was also attributed to the low homicide total and rate in 2019. California’s 2019 homicide rate was the lowest since 1966, stated four experts from the University of California, Berkeley’s California Policy Lab in a related review.
Though homicides in California had decreased three years in a row prior to last year's surge.
The UC Berkeley experts, in a recent report to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code, stated that the pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders in the state led to unpredictable changes in crime patterns last year.
"We were really surprised by the increase in homicide, but also that California is looking at worst, in step with the rest of the country and is even maybe looking a little bit better than what we’re seeing nationally," said Mia Bird Thursday, one of the UC Berkeley experts. "What that tells us is that it’s not something special about California, it’s a really serious issue for California and for the rest of the country."
The Associated Press contributed to this report