For as long as I can remember, the GOP has always tried to sell itself as the "party of law and order"-- meaning the party that isn't filled with scary minorities-- even though they might be more accurately termed the "party of white collar crime" and, more recently, the "party of domestic terrorism." Yesterday, Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby did a look for Popular Information readers at where that all stands this year, as America careens towards the post-Trump midterms.
"Between now and November 2022," they wrote, "you will likely hear a lot about an alleged crime wave that is sweeping the country. Many Republicans are already keying in on the issue, including Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), who authored a piece about crime for Breitbart. The article is accompanied by pictures of people committing various property crimes."
You might be surprised to learn that, according to FBI data cited by Cotton, property crime declined significantly in 2020. It continues a decades-long trend of fewer property crimes.
The same FBI data shows that, overall, crime decreased. But violent crime did go up about 5%. Is that a "crime wave"? Let's put last year's increase in violent crime in context.
...Cotton posits that "Democrat mayors, progressive prosecutors, and liberal governors are to blame." This claim does not hold up to scrutiny. Wyoming, a state with a Republican governor and dominated by Republican officials, had the largest spike in homicides among the 23 states that reported data, 92%. The second-largest spike in murders, 67%, was in South Dakota, which also has a Republican governor.
Cotton highlights that "murder rose 50 percent in Chicago, 44 percent in New York, and 38 percent in Los Angeles" — cities run by Democrats. But he doesn't mention that murder rates rose 62% in Ft. Worth, Texas, which has a Republican mayor. Or that Jacksonville, another city with a Republican mayor, is the "murder capital" of Florida.
A report by the think tank Third Way notes that "in conservative media outlets like Fox News there is a drumbeat that overly permissive crime policies enacted by Democrats are putting Americans at risk to violent crime." But the "data does not back this assertion."
For overall crime, "seven out of the twelve states with decreasing overall crime rates between 2019 and 2020 have Democratic governors" and "[f]our out of eight states with increasing crime rates have Republican governors."
The abuse of crime statistics by Cotton and many other Republicans for political purposes makes it more difficult for Americans to understand the truth. It also makes it more difficult to identify and implement policies that could actually make the country safer.
Police reform is not responsible for the rise in murders
One common argument among Republicans is that the rise in murders is the result of police reforms implemented in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which took center stage after the murder of George Floyd.
“During the fall and winter [of 2020] mayors and governors waged a relentless campaign to defund, disarm, and defame police officers,” Cotton said in the article. But the data shows little relation between reforming police conduct, reduction in police funding, and increased murder rates.
A report by Third Way looked at the 21 states that “passed legislation or issued executive orders to improve policing and justice” in 2020. Massachusetts, which created new training courses and oversight commissions, experienced the lowest increase in murder rate among jurisdictions included in the study. In Colorado, California, and Nevada, all states that passed new police reforms, crime rates were flat. Wyoming and South Dakota, two states that passed no police reform legislation, experienced steep increases in murder and violent crime.
The police were not "defunded" last year. Most "cities increased their police budgets last year, with the budgets decreasing in just 37 of the 105" major cities that reported the data. Cities that reduced their police budget “were about as likely” to have an increase in murder rates as the cities that increased their budgets. The report found that murder increased in 84 percent of the cities that lowered their budgets, but also in 79 percent of the cities that raised their police budget.
...Another common argument is that increasing the number of police officers would reduce violent crime. Cotton insinuates this in the article, mentioning that “even though the FBI gathered data from over 100 additional law-enforcement agencies than it did in 2019, it estimated 1,000 fewer police officers.”
Would more police officers result in less violent crime? The evidence is mixed. Some evidence points to a correlation between more sworn officers and reduced crime rates. A 2019 study in the Journal of Public Economics looked at extra police officers hired in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It found that "each additional police officer prevented 4 violent crimes."
Other data that takes a more comprehensive look at policing complicates this conclusion. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration used millions of dollars in federal funds to hire more police officers in hopes to lower violent crime rates. According to a report in USA Today, the nation had “242 police officers for every 100,000 residents” in 1997. In the two decades that followed the number of police officers per capita dropped significantly. By 2016, there were 217 police officers for every 100,000 residents, but the violent crime rate also dropped 37 percent during those 19 years. In other words, the shirking police force was accompanied by less violent crime.
Violent crime is also only a fraction of police work. So much of the current force is involved in other activities. According to the New York Times, violent crimes account for about 4 percent of the calls that police handle regularly.
The National Institute of Justice released a report that found that providing high-risk youth with extra mentoring and thinking skills can result in lower rates of violent crime. Control trials by The University of Chicago Crime Lab found that targeting youth who are at risk of reacting violently and providing lessons on how to de-escalate violent encounters reduced violent crime arrests by 30 to 50 percent.
Another method to decrease crime rates is increasing gun control. According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, nearly 20,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2020, which is more than any other year in “at least two decades.”
According to a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, states requiring universal background checks for all gun sales had homicide rates 15 percent lower than those without. Prohibiting the possession of firearms by people who have been convicted of a violent crime resulted in an 18 percent reduction in homicide rates.