After 13 cities broke their homicide records in 2021, politicians and police departments find themselves trying to answer the million-dollar question: Why?
Experts say staffing shortages from police retirements and resignations driven by a wave of anti-police sentiment, as well as bail reform, declining arrests, and hardships from the pandemic have coalesced to create a climate of increased crime around the country. Still, there is no clear one-size-fits-all answer for every city seeing a surge in crime.
Toledo, Ohio, recorded 62 homicides as of mid November, beating a previous record set in 2020, when the city saw 57 homicides. The 2020 total had been the highest number recorded in 39 years.
A spokesperson for the Toledo Police Department acknowledged that even while the department had not been directly affected by the “defund the police” movement, it was not immune to the impacts of growing public opposition to law enforcement.
“[Morale] is an issue currently with the anti-police climate — we are human and we are not immune,” a spokesperson for the Toledo Police Department told National Review, adding that the department has also seen an increase in early retirements.
“Our community, much like many other communities, have been through a lot [in] the past year,” spokesman Andrew Dlugosielski said. “The pandemic has brought on food and employment uncertainty, housing scarcity, and a fear of not knowing what could be next.”
He said the economic climate has coincided with “an issue of people being quick to settle their differences with firearms instead of words.”
“There seems to be a lack of empathy for each other,” he said.
The city has seen an 18.6 percent rise in homicides and a 16 percent rise in auto theft. Still, some crime in the city has fallen: Robberies have fallen 39 percent, rapes are down 7 percent, and there’s been a 5 percent decrease in aggravated assaults.
While Toledo mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz suggested in July that the “vast majority of violent crimes in the city are gang-related,” Dlugosielski said that, while gang violence is a “large contributor” to crime in the city, it is not the only one.
Other cities that broke homicide records in 2021 include Portland, Ore.; Rochester, N.Y.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Baton Rouge, La.; Austin, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Louisville, Ky.; and St. Paul, Minn.
All 13 cities are led by Democratic mayors.
Six of the cities broke records that were set or tied in 2020: Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville, Toledo, Baton Rouge, and Milwaukee.
Robert Boyce, retired chief of detectives for the New York Police Department, told ABC News, “Nobody’s getting arrested anymore.”
“People are getting picked up for gun possession and they’re just let out over and over again,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County sheriff slammed California’s liberal prosecutors, saying they are living in a “woke palace” and not facing the consequences of their decisions to undermine the work of law-enforcement officers amid a surge in crime.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during an appearance on Fox News that liberal district attorney George Gascon has declined to prosecute more than 12,000 cases after county deputies apprehended suspected criminals.
“So that is disheartening for any cop to think all their work is being undone by a careless and irresponsible district attorney,” he said. “But they’re not going to stop doing their job. The deputies . . . keep doing your job, don’t use the excuse of someone else not doing their job to avoid it — and it’s working.”
Meanwhile, the number of arrests nationwide fell 24 percent in 2020, from more than 10 million arrests in 2019 to just 7.63 million, the lowest in 25 years, according to FBI crime data.
Philadelphia surpassed its annual homicide record of 500, first set in 1990. The city of some 1.5 million people has recorded more homicides this year — 521 as of December 6 — than either New York or Los Angeles.
Despite being the nation’s third-largest city, Chicago leads the nation with 739 homicides as of the end of November. However, that figure is still far below the record of 974 homicides set in 1970.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to send additional federal resources to Chicago amid a troubling surge in crime and gun violence.
Lightfoot delivered a 40-minute speech addressing residents’ safety concerns on Monday, in which she asked Garland to send more agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to Chicago for six months to “increase the number of gun investigations and gun seizures” and to send additional federal prosecutors to the city to bring additional criminal cases at the federal level.
Lightfoot requested that Garland also send more federal marshals to Chicago to assist the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and Chicago Police Department in tracking down thousands of individuals wanted on warrants.
Meanwhile Portland, Ore., has rushed to re-fund the police after the city passed its old record of 70 homicides set in 1987 back in October.
The city had been plagued with nightly protests for months in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, with rioters demanding that officials in what is perhaps America’s most liberal city cut $50 million from the department budget to reallocate funds to community-driven initiatives.
The Portland City Council and the mayor acquiesced in June 2020, cutting $15 million from the police budget in response to protests and another $12 million due to pandemic-related economic shortfalls. The budget cuts resulted in the loss of school-resource officers and transit police and the disbanding of a gun-violence reduction team.
Since then, the city has been upended by gun violence, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color. Family members of homicide victims and advocates who work with young gang members have raised questions about the cuts and requested an increased police presence to be paired with accountability and increased social services, according to PBS NewsHour.
In November 2021, the Portland City Council moved to backtrack, unanimously passing a fall budget bump that included increasing the current $230 million police budget by an extra $5.2 million.
The policy shift came amid both the surge in crime and the city’s greatest police staffing shortage in decades, as well as in response to reform recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Other cities, including New York City and Los Angeles, have seen their police budgets partially restored amid a wave of homicides, officer shortages, and political pressures.
Reprinted with permission from – National Review – By Brittany Bernstein
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