Home / General / On the theory that murder rates are increasing because of reforms that were never implemented

On the theory that murder rates are increasing because of reforms that were never implemented


Republicans have made CRIME a major issue in the midterms — what are they going to run on, their zero actual policy proposals with any mass constituency? — and it’s not just uninformed voters but willfully uninformed think tankers who fall for it:

What “extreme policies” on crime (or gender) are Democrats advocating? Needless to say, he doesn’t say. But Ross Douthat agrees that “reality” now has a “conservative bias” because liberal criminal justice reforms led to an increase in crime.

But as Radley Balko observes as part of this very useful summary of the issue, 1)the vast majority of jurisdictions just maintained the same TOUGH ON CRIME policies that were already in place and 2)the increase in violent crime was as bad or worse in the jurisdictions that maintained the status quo:

The surge in murders has primarily come in places run by Democrats, or with progressive prosecutors who are lenient on crime

False, as I’ve already explained here.

The homicide surge was caused by de-funding the police


First, if de-funding did cause the spike in murders, we should also have seen spikes in crime across the board. It’s unlikely that a cut to funding for police would lead to an increase in murders, but not, property crimes or burglaries. But that’s what happened nationally in 2020 and 2021.

Second — and more importantly — the police haven’t been de-funded. A handful of cities made marginal cuts to police budgets. A couple cities also eliminated controversial “elite” police units that have tended to court controversy. In others, a wave of retirements may have reduced overall police numbers. Police groups and their defenders have suggested the retirements were a form of “de-policing,” in that cops were leaving the profession out of frustration. But they could also have been spurred by pension-driven incentives that made it optimal for them to retire the year after working overtime at protests.

In a few places, most notably St. Paul and Portland, somewhat significant cuts to police budgets did occur contemporaneously with record increases in homicides. And it would be foolish to suggest a large, sudden, highly-publicized reduction in police officers on the street wouldn’t have at least some effect on crime.

But correlation isn’t causation. IndianapolisBaton RougeMobile, and Albuquerque, among other cities, saw record-high, or 20-year-high murders in 2021 despite increasing their police budgets. Atlanta saw a 30-year high in homicides last year (and is on an even deadlier pace this year) despite a whopping 18.5 percent increase in police funding since 2019. 

There is a growing body of academic research suggesting more cops on the streets leads to less crime. And again, perhaps this accounts for at least some of the increase in murders, as covid and retirements took more cops off the streets. But we’re still left with the fact that other types of crime went down in 2020 and 2021.

It’s also worth noting that most of the more cops, less crime research doesn’t account for the harm done by over-policing. Also, most of the research also only considers the options of more police or less or no police. For many of the problems we’ve tasked to police, there may be non-policing alternatives that produce better outcomes.

Finally, there’s scant evidence that overall spending on policing in and of itself has much effect on crime.   

Mass incarceration and unconstrained policing can never fail, they can only be failed: this is the kind of bullshit you have to believe if you want newspapers not to fire you so they can keep paying Marc Thiessen and Megan McArdle.

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