I’ve written a lot lately about the difficulties that the Republican Party faces. A lot of people mistakenly believe that makes me a Democrat. For the record, I’m not. I remain a conservative independent who is continually dismayed and alarmed by both parties, but the Republicans have been such a trainwreck lately that their recent travails have sucked most of the air out of the proverbial room.
Let’s face it. Joe Biden is such a boring president that, even with his gaffes, there just isn’t a lot of big stuff to write about in the Biden Administration. Some people fill that void by claiming that his dementia will become uncontrollable any day now, but we’ve heard that for several years at this point. There’s the border surge, which I did write about in March, but CBP statistics show that “encounters” along the southern border are leveling off, albeit at a high level, and that the surge actually started in the spring of 2020 under Donald Trump. There’s also inflation, which I also wrote about, but some indicators are showing that inflation fears are receding. The pandemic is ending, the stock market is up, and the sense of a neverending crisis is fading. For the most part, the country seems to be doing pretty well.
But one exception to the good vibe is the fact that crime rates around the country are skyrocketing. After falling for many years, violent crime rates reversed and started rising last year. The Hill notes that there were 5 murders per 100,000 people in 2019. This increased to about 6.2 per 100,000 in 2020. A New York Times survey found an 18 percent increase in the first three months of 2021 as compared to 2020. That will probably mean two consecutive year-over-year increases, but the good news is that the murder rate was much higher in the past. As recently as 1991, it was about 10 murders per 100,000.
The problem seems to be everywhere. CNN notes that major cities, such as New York and Chicago, are reporting increases, but so are less urban areas. In South Carolina, murders increased by 25 percent in 2020. As a region, the South leads the country in murders with 48 percent of the total despite having only about 40 percent of the population. The deadliest city is not in the South, however. That dubious honor goes to St. Louis.
So, why is the country getting more violent? There are probably several answers to that question. 2020 brought us both the pandemic and the BLM riots, which probably both fed into the rising wave of crime. Social anxiety created by the pandemic may have led to violence while the fact that the BLM riots were a contributing factor is tautological.
Another likely factor is high rate of police officers leaving their departments. A survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found a 45 percent increase in police retirements and an 18 percent increase in resignations in the survey period from 2020 to 2021 compared to the previous year. It’s easy to draw a line between the heavy criticism of police over the past year and the “Defund the Police” movement to officers leaving the profession in droves.
I have mixed emotions about the backlash against police in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. On the one hand, officers who abuse their position and break the law should be punished and should leave the force, especially if their unlawful actions kill someone. There have been many recent examples of bad behavior by cops. On the other hand, too often good officers are assumed to be bad simply because they are wearing a uniform and a badge. The world is not as simple as saying all cops are bad or all cops are good.
This may be where President Biden can have his most significant impact. As the leader of the Democratic Party, the president should influence Democrats to tamp down on the anti-police rhetoric. The wild-eyed progressive left may think that all cops are evil but rank-and-file Democratic voters likely value police protection.
It’s worth noting here that Biden is not part of the “Defund the Police” crowd. As a candidate, Biden never got on board the defund movement, instead promising to put more officers on the street. Last week, the president approved a plan that allows states and cities to spend unused COVID relief funds to fight the crime wave.
That a shift in liberal attitudes is underway is apparent from the success of Eric Adams in the New York mayoral race. Adams, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, is a former police captain who has advocated increasing police patrols.
Unfortunately, much of Biden’s focus is on guns, especially “assault rifles,” which is both a nonstarter and a distraction. FBI crime statistics show that it is extremely rare for rifles of any type to be used in murders. In fact, for every year shown on the 2019 crime report (2015-2019), about twice as many people were killed by an assailant’s bare hands or feet as by a rifle.
As I’ve pointed out before, banning “assault rifles” would have little effect even on mass shootings. The “assault weapons” ban in the 1990s had little, if any, statistical effect on mass killings. If we consider Wikipedia’s list of 11 mass shootings so far in 2021, only four involved weapons that could be considered “assault rifles.”
Even if “assault rifles” were to blame, a ban would never make it past Senate Republicans (or Joe Manchin). Additionally, the Supreme Court is much more gun-friendly than it was in the 1990s and may well be more responsive to two additional decades of data that show bans on “assault rifles” to be ineffective at reducing crime.
While rising crime rates, like the illegal immigration surge, did start under Donald Trump, it is fair to say that both are problems that Joe Biden must deal with. That’s his job, and if Biden and the Democrats can’t get the rising crime rates under control, it may give Republicans an issue that resonates in 2022 and beyond. This is especially true in the suburbs that swing between red and blue. If voters don’t feel safe, it is a powerful incentive to vote for change.
But it may not be that simple. Democrats can point out that the crime wave started during the Trump Administration as well as the fact that Trump’s 2018 criminal justice reform released about 5,000 inmates from federal prisons. Despite the meme of “Joe Biden’s America” as a place populated by violent thugs, the problem is bipartisan and national.
I think the ultimate answer is to pursue a number of different reforms. First, we need to hire and train new police officers to replace those who are leaving. The new officers need to be well-paid and trained to avoid the deadly mistakes that we have seen all too often in the past.
I’m sympathetic to the “broken windows” school of policing, but we have to take care that more broad police coverage does not translate into more aggressive police tactics or the criminalizing of everyday problems, such as school bullying or truancy. Nevertheless, the presence of cops can deter crime so they should be present as much as possible.
To make this work, however, we need to rebuild the trust between citizens and police officers. At this point, many people, especially minorities, are more fearful of being killed by police than by criminals. This is not a totally unreasonable fear.
Second, we need to take violent criminals off the street. It may be true that we lock up too many nonviolent offenders, but people who habitually hurt or kill others need to go away for a long time.
Finally, we should experiment with different programs and find out what works to reduce recidivism. For some, this may be faith-based programs while others may need an occupational assist. These programs should be scored by results and not by ideological or partisan factors.
Joe Biden and the Democrats have a lot going for them, but the crime problem is something that they will have to address. If the trend can’t be reversed, rising crime rates could prove to be the Democrats’ Achilles heel.