Mugged by Reality: With Police Increasingly Demonized, Murder Rates Skyrocket Print
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, August 05 2021
It became easy to take America’s twenty-year crime rate improvement for granted, and now we’re already witnessing the real-life consequences of treating police and our criminal justice system as the problem, rather than criminals themselves.

If a conservative is merely a liberal who has been mugged by reality, paraphrasing the late Irving Kristol, then expect former Senator Barbara Boxer (D – California) to sport a MAGA cap soon.  

Last week, Ms. Boxer was literally mugged in Oakland, California, and recounted shouting in her bewilderment, “I was yelling at the kid, ‘Why would you do this to a grandma?,’ but he could care less.” [sic] With homicides in California rising last year by a ghastly 31%, perhaps Ms. Boxer will connect the state’s leftist, police-unfriendly atmosphere with rising crime that now includes her among its victims.  

In a similar case in June, embattled California Governor Gavin Newsom was also assaulted by a homeless man.  Unlike the little people whom he governs, however, Newsom was fortunate to possess a security detail to interrupt the attack.  

Just north in Portland, Oregon, meanwhile, city leaders have been similarly mugged by reality.  

Merely halfway through 2021, the city is already over 75% down the path to exceeding 1987’s record number of 70 murders.  Portland officials in their sudden panic are even scrambling to resurrect an elite police anti-gun violence unit that they terminated last year amid anti-police riots and a “defund the police” movement, but only four officers have applied for the unit’s 14 openings.  

Part of the problem, according to The Wall Street Journal, might be that city leaders clearly aren’t approaching the problem with the seriousness that it merits:  “A job description says qualifications include the ability to fight systemic racism.”  

Across America, the finalized crime data for 2020 is now coming in, and it’s now clear that the U.S. experienced an unprecedented murder rate increase.  Whereas the largest previous one-year murder rate increase was 13% in 1968, last year saw a 35% increase in the 70 largest cities in the U.S.  Our remarkable 50% U.S. murder rate decline since 1990 may be evaporating.  

Some predictably attempt to rationalize that suddenly skyrocketing murder rate as a consequence of the Covid pandemic or last year’s economic turbulence.  

John Jay College criminology professor Peter Moskos, however, offers a comprehensive rebuttal to such explanations.  His data pinpoints a far more convincing explanation:  demonization of police, which led to less proactive policing.  

Professor Moskos makes quick work of the “economic hardship” excuse:  

Were the stress and economic hardship of the pandemic a factor?  Perhaps in some places.  But Covid struck hard in Baltimore and Newark, for example, and the murder rate in those cities didn’t increase.  There was economic anxiety in Anchorage, but murders declined there by 50%.  Economic factors in general seem to have little impact on violent crime.  Murder rates declined during the previous economic crash in 2007-08, then began an upward trend in 2014 even as poverty and unemployment hit record lows.  Over the past six decades, annual changes in U.S. murder and poverty rates have moved in opposite directions more often than they have moved in sync.  There are vast areas of immigrant poverty in the U.S. with low murder rates, and in parts of Appalachia, poverty combines with widespread gun ownership, yet gun violence remains rare.  

Professor Moskos cogently rebuts the Covid rationalization as well:  

The Covid lockdowns of 2020 are also a weak explanation for surging violence.  Such lockdowns took place around the world, but the dramatic rise in murders is a phenomenon unique to the U.S.  In Canada last year, murder was slightly up, while in Mexico it was slightly down.  And the massive increase in violence in the U.S. started not with the pandemic but with the death of Mr. Floyd in late May. 

Wary of intensified scrutiny, pressure and demonization, police have understandably become less proactive, which in turn leads to fewer arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations.  

Another alarming problem is that police are increasingly opting for earlier retirement or simply resigning altogether, leading to force depletion.  For the 2020-2021 year, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, retirements jumped 45%, and resignations increased by 18%.  

It became easy to take America’s twenty-year crime rate improvement for granted, and now we’re already witnessing the real-life consequences of treating police and our criminal justice system as the problem, rather than criminals themselves.  Hopefully we won’t need many more muggings by reality for policymakers to recognize that.