Peaking Crime Rates Spur a Change in Anti-Police Attitudes

According to several police reports, crime rates in many cities across the United States were at an all-time high between 2020 and 2021. As a result, fears over personal security are now looming large in many citizens' minds.

In turn, this is steering political opinion, too: polling company IPSOS has already reported that support for the controversial "defund the police" movement had gone down from 22% to 18% throughout 2021.

As the upheaval of the last couple of years fades away, public policy experts now hope that the current crime surge represents the wave's crest. To detangle the current situation, it's necessary to look at both the long and short terms.

COVID Crime: How the Pandemic (and its Public Health Measures) Favored Insecurity

The relationship between the effects of the pandemic and the rise in crime is hard to miss.

For example, large cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the hardest hit, have all seen violent crime rates reach historic heights. In New York City, homicides grew by 4.1% during 2020, while in Chicago, the homicide rate was the highest in 23 years.

It is not difficult to find connections between both. Lockdowns brought widespread job losses, an economic downturn, and mass prisoner releases, increasing the number of violent offenders on the streets.

At the same time, police departments around the country became progressively more hesitant to adopt harsh policing methods. The high-profile cases of police brutality and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests temporarily pitted public opinion against law enforcement.

According to Barry Latzer, this combination created a "crime tsunami," with violence rates that rival the 80s and the infamous crack epidemic. But is this where we are headed?

Shifting Priorities and Changing Demographics

Now, the public health threat has been replaced by inflation and product shortages. Yet, experts remain optimistic. "The key factors that caused the 90s wave aren't present today," points out Latzer.

The opposite may be about to happen. The problematic figures of the past two years may be masking more significant trends that will once again curb the prevalence of violent crime.

Why? Census data offers three primary demographic shifts.

First, the country's population is aging at a rapid pace. The Baby Boomer generation is now firmly in retirement age, and statistically, people over 65 are less likely to engage in violent crimes. Meanwhile, the group most likely to commit robberies – men between 18 and 24 – continues to shrink: they now represent 4.7% of the population and will barely hit 4.4% by 2030.

The second factor is the suburban revival of the past two years. Rents and mortgages in urban centers continue to rise, driving many low-income people out of big cities. This will prevent the creation of the criminalized neighborhoods that fueled the historical violence of the 70s and 80s.

Finally, the last two decades have reaped the fruits of nearly 30 years of investing in the criminal justice system. Imprisonment rates have been slowly falling since 2009. Different think tanks disagree on the causes for this: it can be the result of aggressive crime reduction strategies or a result of the more recent decarceration movement.

Now is Not the Time to Weaken our Justice System

The upcoming local, state, and midterm elections will provide a unique opportunity for voters to weigh in on this issue. New district attorneys and lawmakers may choose to deepen decarceration or decriminalization efforts. This appears to be the dominant trend in urban centers.

In the flyover states, the population seeks to turn the other way. When the public faces a threat for the first time, the natural response is to wish for more vital police and a strict justice system.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image Credit: Photo by Andi Li on Unsplash

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