Times have been tough for many U.S cities. A sharp rise in crime in 2020 is lingering into 2021, and is showing no signs of abating anytime soon.
According to data from the Major Cities Chiefs Association, homicides in American cities rose by 33% from 2019 to 2020. Data from this year shows us that crime in many U.S cities is getting worse in 2021.
As of May 16th, murders were up by 59% in Atlanta compared with the same period in 2020 — and rapes, aggravated assaults and thefts from and of cars are also well above levels in 2020, according to The Economist. 2020 was already Atlanta’s deadliest year in decades for homicides, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A similar story is unfolding in Minneapolis. According to The Star Tribune, violent crime soared by 21% in Minneapolis last year. Violent crime is also increasing this year, according to a recent Minneapolis Public Health & Safety (PHS) Committee meeting.
A growing body of research suggests that 2020 was a particularly bad year for crime. A recent report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that homicides in U.S cities rose sharply in 2020, and rates of aggravated assaults and gun assaults increased as well. Homicide rates were 30% higher than in 2019. This is a historic increase representing 1,268 more deaths in the sample of 34 cities than the year before.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of crime statistics in cities found that some cities with long-running crime problems saw their numbers rise in 2020, including Philadelphia, Detroit, Memphis, Tenn and Chicago, which was the worst-hit of all of them. Even less violent places have been struck as well, such as Omaha, Neb., and Phoenix.
The causes of this spike in murders are ambiguous and yet to be researched in-depth. Perhaps a mixture of pandemic-related fatigue for both civilians and police, rising gun sales and hesitation among police after the protests inspired by George Floyd’s death have yielded more crime in U.S cities in 2020 and well into 2021.
To quell this crime wave in U.S cities — we must reform the police by enacting policies that ensure police are accountable. This will build trust between the police and citizens, which will yield lower crime rates. Data supporting the effectiveness of “defunding the police” is scant. People want accountable, effective policing, not the defunding or abolition of police forces.
According to a Gallup poll from August 2020, 61% of Black Americans want police presence to remain the same and 20% say they would like police to spend more time in their area. Meanwhile, 67% of all U.S. adults prefer the status quo, including 71% of white Americans.
Data from Pew Research Center suggests similar findings — with 58% of Black Americans and 76% of Hispanic respondents saying that they do not want to see a decrease in spending for police in their area.
The data also suggests that there is broad support for several police reforms — as 71% of the American people strongly support requiring police to be trained in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force.
Moreover, 62% strongly favor creating a federal government database to track officers accused of misconduct — and 74% either somewhat favor or strongly favor requiring officers to live in the places they police.
These reforms should be enacted. They will ultimately yield accountability and build trust between police and citizens, which will bring about lower crime rates. We also must implement criminal justice reforms that will ensure that we are only putting behind bars people who need to be there.
According to a Prison Policy Initiative briefing, reclassifying criminal offenses and turning misdemeanor charges that don’t threaten public safety into non-jailable infractions is one way to achieve this.
If incarceration did remedy crime, America would be much safer than it is now. A study from Villanova University analyzing the effects of imprisonment on crime from 1971-1998 found that imprisonment rates are not significantly related to crime in the majority of states.
A wealth of evidence exists that anti-violence nonprofits and summer jobs for young people can also help quell crime. Research from the Brennan Center for Justice found that in a city of 100,000, each new nonprofit community organization brought about a 1.2% drop in the homicide rate, a 1% reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 0.7% reduction in the property crime rate.
Likewise, an evaluation of the Boston summer youth employment program by the Brookings Institute found that these programs are effective in reducing crime and incarceration among participants. Investing in these institutions and programs will suppress crime.
It is time for mayors to get this crime surge under control. Following public opinion and enacting much needed reforms in policing is the best way forward. More people in prisons and more thuggish policing certainly won't help. Neither will the defunding or abolition of police forces.