In January, two NYPD officers, Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora responded to a call of a mother who was being threatened by her 47-year-old live-in son. As the officers made their way to the back of the apartment, calling the son’s name, he responded with a hail of gunfire, killing the two officers.
In the wake of these murders, the Biden administration has faced questions about the cause of the recent rise in violent crime across the country. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s response? She said it’s due to “under-funding of police departments and their need for additional resources.” This is welcome news, if a little surprising, coming from a President whose party led the charge in cities across the country to reduce funding to police departments.
Paski went on to state that President Biden “support[s] a massive plus-up” of federal dollars going into local police departments. For his part, President Biden has proposed $1.3 billion in Justice Department spending to support law enforcement in his FY22 budget.
This is a step in the right direction, but if the administration hopes to turn back more than a half decade of increasing homicides in American cities, it’ll have to up the ante.
Homicides have been increasing in American cities since 2015. That year saw a more than 10 percent increase in murder over 2014, and 2016 saw another 8 percent increase on top of that. Things leveled off a bit for a few years and then 2020 saw the single largest increase in homicide in recorded history. Homicides went up in 2021 again, but we don’t yet know by exactly how much. At least twelve major cities saw their highest homicide total on record last year. What’s even more concerning is half of those cities broke records set in either 2019 or 2020.
It’s good to see Biden and Paski rejecting the dangerous and misguided “defund the police'' movement, but honestly, at this point, it’s a bit too little too late. More than $840 million was cut from police budgets in Democrat-controlled cities across the country in 2020. Now those cities are paying the price. A Police Executive Research Forum survey of about 200 police departments found that retirements were up 45 percent and resignations were up by 18 percent from April 2020 to April 2021 when compared with the previous 12 months. These increases have coincided with the rise of anti-police rhetoric from groups like BLM and their political allies, like “Squad” member Rashida Tlaib, who called for “no more policing [and] incarceration.” Even Biden’s own running mate then-Senator Kamala Harris supported defunding law enforcement. “We have confused the idea that to achieve safety you put more cops on the street,” she said.
That Biden now stands against the party tide and against the previous comments of his Vice President is commendable, but his silence at the time casts a pall on his efforts.
To be fair, his proposal is sound. Investment in law enforcement is one of the best violence-reduction strategies available to policymakers. A 2015 study looked at police and crime data from 1960 through 2010 and concluded that every $1 spent on policing generates about $1.63 in social benefits, mostly through reductions in homicides. There have also been two previous large injections of federal money into local police departments, once in the mid-1990s, and one in 2009 following the Great Recession. Evaluations have found that the injection of these dollars both increased the number of officers on the street and decreased crime in the 1990s and post-recession.
Putting more federal money into hiring more police alone, however, won’t completely solve the problem of skyrocketing homicides and violence. Over the last six years, American cities have been plagued by increases in gang activity, by so-called “progressive prosecutors” who would rather get praise from liberal activists than enforce the law, and by changes in police practices that have removed officers from the communities they serve.
Turning back the tide of rising violence will require combating these trends. Polling clearly shows American sentiment is at odds with the progressive prosecutor project. The Biden Administration needs to set the tone in this regard by encouraging a prosecutorial shift towards restoring law and order.
In addition, the administration needs to earmark dollars for law enforcement strategies that are tried and true, like focused deterrence policing, commonly known as Group Violence Intervention, which has reduced gang and street group-involved homicides by 40 to 60 percent shortly after implementation. These efforts hyperfocus law enforcement and social services on problem groups and individuals. This works because about 5 percent of offenders are typically responsible for more than 50 percent of violence. They have also been shown to improve community-police relations, by removing those causing the chaos while leaving the rest of the community free to build. Federal dollars can be used to encourage adoption of these techniques.
Reducing violence in American cities ought not be a partisan issue. If President Biden is serious about it, he should extend an olive branch to congressional Republicans and get to work on leveraging federal resources.
Joshua Crawford is the executive director of the Pegasus Institute, a public policy think tank in Louisville, Kentucky, and a Young Voices contributor.