Defund the Police has been a battle cry heard ‘round the nation for the past year, since the death of George Floyd and the trial of Derek Chauvin. Leadership in several major cities have listened to the protesters demanding police reform and have taken steps to appease the shouting masses by seriously reducing their policing budgets, removing officer positions and personnel, and even looking into civilian troops to handle crimes. Have these efforts been working, or have they been in vain? According to reports, the latter may be true as violent crimes have surged in some cities compared to last year – and now some lawmakers are trying to restock their police departments.
By the Numbers
Murders and violent crimes have indeed increased since the Defund the Police movement started and politicians responded. In Chicago, during the first three months of this year, homicides increased by 33%. In fact, this past weekend was the deadliest of the year in the Windy City, with 12 deaths and 42 wounded by gunfire.
New York City data compiled by the city’s police department show that homicides jumped by nearly 14% through March 28, the most recent information, and shootings were up by almost half. Los Angeles saw an increase of 36% through March 30, while Houston and Memphis suffered an increase of 100 or more murders compared to 2019. Gun Violence Archive (GVA) reported that nearly 20,000 people were killed last year due to gun violence, and there were 200 more mass shootings in 2020 compared to the previous year.
What’s Causing the Increase?
Experts do not pinpoint one specific cause for increased violence, but many admit that reducing police presence has added significantly to the problem. Fewer officers on streets and in communities mean more opportunities for criminality. The COVID lockdowns have had an impact as well, especially during the BLM protests. As a former Baltimore police officer, now a professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Peter Moskos explained:
“It’s not that protests caused the rise in violence. What protests caused was a major change in policing. If you stop policing, violence goes up.”
The negative and often hostile sentiment against law enforcement, combined with depleted personnel, contributes to the problem as well, since some officers have disengaged or reduced attendance in problematic neighborhoods. L.A. Chief of Police Michael Moore said officers “emotionally, they are beat up – they feel like they have been vilified and victimized for the wrongful criminal acts of a few.”
The criminal element intensified once cities and states started releasing inmates from jails and prisons, to protect them from the virus as well as a way to help reduce the spread of COVID. Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the shutdowns of detention facilities send the wrong message: that there are no consequences to bad behavior. Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, explained, “People are revictimized when violent crime offenders are not held accountable by the criminal justice system.”
Fear of losing Second Amendment rights has spurred record gun purchases as citizens rush to buy, concerned they won’t be able to if stricter gun laws are approved. This means there are more guns in more hands, which officials say have put many more firearms on the streets as well.
Time to Bring Back Police?
With so many developments contributing to increased criminal activities while trying to keep order with less law enforcement, some cities have decided to reinstate at least some of the vacancies local leaders reduced to appease Defund the Police activists. Los Angeles is a good example. After agreeing to remove $150 million from its police department, which is about 8% of the budget, city officials decided last week to increase that same budget to allow the hiring of about 250 officers. This will essentially bring the force back to its numbers before the reduction.
As crime continues to rise in a nation still tense from more than a year of unemployment, social distancing, and civil unrest, other cities are considering making additions to law enforcement. Depleting police departments during a pandemic, when riots rage in cities for months on end, may have been jumping the gun.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.