How did crime re-emerge as a major concern for voters?
According to a Fox News poll of registered voters conducted Oct. 9-12, 89% of voters are “extremely” or “very” concerned about inflation and higher prices while 79% say the same about crime, the number two concern.
We know that in the tumultuous summer of 2020, “Defund the Police” became all the rage among the far left – the ideologically dominant core of the Democratic Party.
Accompanying these calls to shift government funds from police departments to social programs were hundreds of protests against policing policies under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Many of these street protests descended into violence, looting and arson.
With the midterm elections weeks away, most Democrats are doing all they can to distance themselves from defund rhetoric – it’s caustic to their election chances. But during the 2020 unrest, an interesting pattern emerged: urban areas with a higher 2016 vote share for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton against Republican Donald Trump had higher levels of urban unrest in 2020. An increased vote share for Clinton was predictive of increased urban unrest while race and ethnicity, poverty, and existing crime rates weren’t.
The 2020 summer riots’ connection to the 2016 vote suggests that the violence America suffered in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25, 2020, was driven by more by leftist ideology than race.
The summer of riots and anti-police rhetoric that made the claim of widespread excessive use of police force corroded trust between communities and law enforcement, resulting in a drop of crime victims reporting crime. It appears the nation is still affected by the aftermath of the 2020 unrest.
Unfortunately, the FBI’s crime report for 2021 was woefully incomplete, with some 40% of America’s law-enforcement agencies not sending in arrest data, including New York City and Los Angeles, among others. The data we do have suggests that the rate of murder and other violent crimes remain elevated from levels reported in 2019, though still far less than the modern peak of violent crime experience in the early 1990s.
Using a different methodology, the Council on Criminal Justice examined monthly crime rates in 27 major U.S. cities and found that murder was up 5% in 2021 while aggravated assaults rose 4%.
Yet at the local level, those cities in the grips of the most extreme left-wing progressives who rapidly moved to defund the police were, in many cases, quick to reverse course as public safety deteriorated. New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin, cut their police budgets by a combined $1.3 billion at the height of the defund mania in 2020. But by the next year, each city moved to restore funding amid rising crime rates.
For Seattle though, it was too little, too late. As the Emerald City’s far left attacked police and called for defunding the department, police morale plummeted. Seattle lost 375 officers, setting staffing levels back 30 years. The Seattle City Council belatedly tried to reverse course last year, reinstating funding for 125 new officers. But the damage was done. Few prospective law enforcement officers want to work for Seattle. The department was only able to recruit seven officers this year – not even enough to offset the 34 who retired or quit.
In the meantime, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz reported to the city council that the murder rate jumped 20% in 2021 – the highest it’s been in 20 years – with an almost doubling of reported shots fired. In the first quarter of 2022, robberies were up 30% and aggravated assaults up 33%.
Apart from the left’s push to defund the police, a parallel effort has quietly unfolded over the past six years to fund the election campaigns of left-wing district attorneys. These key officials hold the discretion to charge alleged criminals with a crime or not, with soft-on-crime DAs now presiding in fully half of America’s largest urban areas totaling some 72 million people.
Officials like District Attorney George Gascón in Los Angeles or former San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin – recalled on June 7 – and others like them have chosen not to prosecute vast swaths of crime. They do so under the theory that the criminal justice system – even America herself – is hopelessly tainted by racism. In so doing, these DAs nullify the entire criminal system designed to deter, punish and rehabilitate as enacted by their states’ elected legislators. They may cloak their actions as criminal justice reform. But refusing to prosecute crime is nothing more than the unilateral acts of rogue DAs.
In contrast, Republican governors such as Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma and Bill Lee of Tennessee, have championed criminal justice policies that shift resources from inflated correctional budgets to invest in the law-and-order model of prevention.
For example, Lee secured a $100 million law enforcement grant focused on communities suffering from higher rates of violent crime while Stitt expanded the recruiting and training capacity of the highway patrol in conjunction with pay raises for the officers. They funded the police.
While only some progressive city councils and left-wing DAs are on the ballot this Nov. 8, most of their ideological allies in Congress must face voters. Polling suggests that voters place greater trust in Republicans than Democrats to improve public safety. Given Democrats’ erratic shifts on criminal justice, it’s not a surprise.