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Crime Surge in US Is a Direct Consequence of Demoralization of Police

Michael Washburn

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The dramatic surge in violent crime in many U.S. cities is a consequence of wary and tentative policing in the wake of the summer 2020 unrest following the death of George Floyd, and the efforts of progressive district attorneys to deemphasize enforcement and aggressive prosecution, according to criminologists and experts.

The rise in crime has been particularly pronounced in the nation’s largest cities. New York Police Department (NYPD) statistics for January 2022 indicate that overall crime was up 38.5 percent compared to January 2021, with some of the highest increases in such categories as shootings (31.6 percent), robberies (33.1 percent), and grand larceny (58.1 percent).

These figures come on the heels of a particularly violent year 2021. On a national level, murders increased 5 percent for all of 2021 compared to 2020, and the overall rate was 44 percent higher than in 2019, according to figures from the Council on Criminal Justice.

To be sure, there are many theories as to what drives the surge in crime, and not all experts concur about the scope of the increase. Some criminologists say it is necessary to weigh the perceptions of a public shaken by headlines versus the reality of crime figures.

“Violent crime in big U.S. cities has unmistakably increased, but the rate of this increase appears to have slowed down. Much of the increased public concern has resulted from the very real increase in murders and other violent crimes in the big cities such as Chicago and New York City,” said Heath Grant, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“As is always the case with such coverage, there is a corresponding increase in fear of crime. It is important to remember that the violent crime numbers, including murder, are about half of what they were in the early 1990s when the country began its very substantial and sustained crime decline,” Grant added.

Other experts do not agree at all that public perceptions of a sharp rise in crime are misplaced. Heather Mac Donald, an author and fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, says that this is a statistical reality, not a perception.

“2020 saw the largest increase in homicide in this nation’s history—a 29 percent increase over 2019. A nearly 30 percent increase in anything in a year is almost unprecedented,” Mac Donald said.

 A police officer stands amid smoke and debris as buildings continue to burn in the aftermath of a night of protests and violence following the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 29, 2020. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Mac Donald described the rise in crime as occurring in distinct phases. In 2020, the first four to five months saw a rise in violence, an increase that shot up with the George Floyd protests in the summer. She contrasted the crime patterns of that year with 2021 and the first few months of 2022, describing this period as one of “full post-George Floyd social breakdown and policing breakdown,” with some of the highest homicide rates ever recorded ravaging cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Mac Donald cited the example of Chicago, where carjackings have grown so common that last year city officials decided to launch “Operation Safe Pump,” which set aside certain periods of time for getting gasoline under the protection of private security forces.

“So this is by no means a question of perception. The mainstream media have done everything they possibly can to pretend this crime increase is not going on. To the extent people are aware of [the issue], it is not from reporting, it’s from lived experience,” she said.

Crime Victim Demographics

An overwhelming number of the victims of the rise in violent crime, Mac Donald noted, are the racial minorities. In 2020 alone, 50 black children were gunned down in drive-by shootings, she noted. While some outlets in the mainstream media might seek to portray “law and order” as a code used to enforce policies favored by Trump voters, it is not the latter who bear the brunt of the surge in crime.

“Because these black kids are being gunned down by other blacks, Black Lives Matter activists don’t care, the media don’t care,” Mac Donald said.

Concurrently with the spike in violent crime, quality-of-life offenses and “minor” thefts have surged, prompting many retail store chains to lock up their products behind plexiglass barriers or in some cases to shut down stores that are vulnerable to crime.

Besides disagreements over the extent of the crime surge, there is a marked lack of consensus among some experts as to what may be pushing crime upward. While some have suggested that progressive measures like bail reform play a role, others find this explanation wanting.

“It is unlikely that these increases are due to progressive policies, although the data are still out on the impact of bail reform,” said Grant. “For bail reform to be linked to increases in gun crime after the ‘miracle crime drop’ in New York City, it would have to be shown that it is dangerous offenders, who are not being jailed, are the ones committing these offenses while out and awaiting the completion of their case,” Grant said.

“I just have not seen conclusive evidence of this yet,” he added.

Grant said that myriad risk factors play a role in the increase, such as income insecurity, access to firearms, and gang activity. Pandemic stress, and the anxiety and trauma bound up with it, are additional factors, he said. Lack of support for at-risk youth on the part of schools can also be a factor, he said.

But others categorically reject these explanations and blame the crime crisis on anti-police rhetoric and the stance of some public prosecutors who explicitly reject the tough-on-crime, “broken windows” approach to policing.

 A Los Angeles Police Department vehicle is set alight by protesters during demonstrations in Los Angeles, Calif., on May 30, 2020, following the death of George Floyd. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

‘Defund the Police’

Michael Alcazar, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former New York City police officer, says it is not a coincidence that crime has risen sharply in cities where “defund the police” rhetoric has grown pervasive. In Alcazar’s view, New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg is more inclined to work for lawbreakers than for the citizens who elected him.

“It sends the wrong message. It definitely emboldens the criminal element, and it also demoralizes police officers. They’re trying to clean up the city, they’re trying to make those arrests, only to have progressive DAs release criminals without bail. They’ve made a decision not to prosecute ‘minor’ crimes, and it’s not working for New York City,” Alcazar said.

Alcazar added that he knows police officers who have resigned because of either COVID-19 or the “defund the police” rhetoric. With the doctrine of qualified immunity, which has long shielded from prosecution police officers who have had to exercise force against lawbreakers, now under attack, many cops are unsure they will be indemnified even if their actions are lawful and reasonable, Alcazar said.

“They might come under investigation, they might be terminated, fired, reprimanded, or suspended. When police officers are suspended, they lose their health benefits and their pay,” Alcazar observed, noting that this is particularly problematic for officers struggling to support families while COVID-19 lingers.

“The leadership is partly to blame, but you also have this anti-police sentiment and people don’t feel that they can trust the police and rely on the police,” he noted.

Alcazar said that a number of his students have come to him for advice about their career choices, and he is reluctant to advise them to pursue police work in the current climate.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Bragg’s office for comment.

In Mac Donald’s view, the increasingly accepted doctrine of “disparate impact,” which holds that it is necessary not just to consider the objective soundness and fairness of a law or policy but to look at how its enforcement affects various demographics and sectors of society, has done much to render law enforcement weak and ineffectual.

“That’s why we’re not enforcing the law, that’s why we’re not incarcerating people, it’s all to avoid disparate impact” on racial minorities, Mac Donald said.

The doctrine turns people away from pursuing policies that may seem objectively sound.

“Any neutral, colorblind law enforcement is going to have a disparate impact. You can either enforce the law in a colorblind, constitutional manner and save lives, or you can avoid disparate impact, stop enforcing the law, and live with the consequences of crime increases,” she said.

Mac Donald concurs with Alcazar about the impact of the reigning doctrines on law enforcement. Not only are officers leaving the profession in large numbers, but recruitment has become a challenge because no one wants to be branded as a racist on the first day on the job, she said. Police officers have grown passive and tend to limit their actions to responding to 911 calls after the commission of a crime, she added.

“When they get out of a car now, they’re surrounded by hostile, jeering crowds putting smartphones in their faces. And we’ve seen that the threat of riots hangs over every jury. Then you have the progressive prosecutors who have announced, ‘You can shoplift, you can loot, you can resist arrest, and we’re not going to prosecute you,’” she said.