The big spike in murders in 2020, explained in 600 words

“Data from the FBI, the Council on Criminal Justice, and crime analyst Jeff Asher shows that the murder rate surged by upward of 25 percent in 2020. Violent crime in general rose as well, though not as much as murders, with aggravated assaults and shootings up. But nonviolent crimes, such as those involving drugs or theft, fell — leading to an overall decrease of crime even as violent crime and murders rose.

The murder increase essentially set the US back decades on crime reduction efforts, putting total murders back at the levels of the 1990s.

The increase was truly nationwide, with the FBI data finding surges in places rural and urban, across every region of the country.”

“Last year was extremely weird in a lot of ways, in large part due to Covid-19. It also, obviously, just happened. Both of those factors make it really hard for experts to isolate what led to a murder spike. So far there’s no consensus.”

The “Supermarket Sweep”

““From Seattle to Los Angeles, a “shoplifting boom” is hitting major retailers, which deal with thousands of thefts, drug overdoses, and assaults each year. Since 2010, thefts increased by 22 percent in Portland, 50 percent in San Francisco, and 61 percent in Los Angeles. In total, California, Oregon, and Washington reported 864,326 thefts to the FBI last year. The real figure is likely much higher, as many retailers have stopped reporting most shoplifting incidents to police.

Drug addiction is driving this shoplifting boom. In recent years, West Coast cities have witnessed an explosion in addiction rates for heroin, fentanyl, and meth; property crime helps feed the habit. According to federal data, adults with substance-abuse disorders make up just 2.6 percent of the total population but 72 percent of all jail inmates sentenced for property crimes. Addicts are 29 times more likely to commit property crimes than the average American. Furthermore, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics found, “[39 percent of jail inmates] held for property offenses said they committed the crime for money for drugs”—the most common single motivation for crime throughout the justice system.

Unfortunately, as West Coast cities grapple with an addiction epidemic, the shoplifting boom has only accelerated because of decriminalization. California’s Proposition 47, approved by nearly 60 percent of voters statewide in 2014, reclassified many drug and property felonies as misdemeanors, effectively decriminalizing thefts of $1,000 or less. Many criminals now believe, justifiably, that they can steal with impunity. For example, in San Francisco, police reported 33,000 car break-ins last year; the city now leads the nation in overall property crime. In Portland, a repeat offender nicknamed the “Hamburglar” stole $2,690 worth of meat in one year. He bluntly told police officers: “I know the law. I know the rules. I know what I can and can’t do . . . I’m never going to get over $1,000 at any store.” The Portland Police Department, which doesn’t assign officers to retail theft cases, admits that official statistics vastly underreport actual crime.

Some retailers have adopted a policy of private decriminalization, in many cases prohibiting their security guards from physically apprehending shoplifters. Liability losses, they believe, outweigh property losses. When I asked the manager of Seattle’s 96,000-square-foot Target if employees followed a “no touch, no chase” policy, he responded: “Officially, I can’t tell you our policy, but if you watch our front door for an hour, you’ll see pretty clearly what’s happening.” According to reports, the store likely has ten to 40 “security incidents” a day, including a dramatic incident last year when a drug-frenzied man went on a 15-minute rampage, destroying displays and merchandise, only to walk out the door with duffel bags full of goods. Police never arrived.

The shoplifting crisis isn’t limited to the West Coast. Retailers across the nation report $16.7 billion in losses to shoplifting. In many cases, they simply pass along the cost to consumers, with one study suggesting that this “shoplifting tax” costs the average family $400 a year. In Seattle, the shoplifting boom has forced some retailers to close stores in the downtown commercial district, citing massive losses and the threat of violence against employees. Another store, Outdoor Emporium, called 911 more than 200 times last year, but the city prosecuted only one of the incidents. Other retailers have stopped reporting shoplifting altogether—in a recent survey, downtown Seattle businesses reported “less than 5 percent of the daily crime they experience.”””

The US has made its biggest anti-money-laundering changes in years

“If you’re a corrupt foreign official or drug trafficker, there’s a pretty easy way to protect your illicit cash: create an anonymous shell company.

You form a shell company — meaning a business that exists only on paper, with no employees, no products it makes or sells, no revenue, nothing except maybe a bank account and some assets — but you do it without disclosing your (the owner’s) real name, offering a convenient way to launder your money and evade law enforcement in the United States.

Except that might now be a lot harder to do in the US. A provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the $741 billion defense bill, will effectively ban anonymous shell companies.

The NDAA passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Trump vetoed the package, but Congress voted overwhelmingly to override the president’s veto for the first time during Trump’s tenure.

That means that now, when someone opens a shell corporation, they’ll be required to provide the owner’s name and some basic identifying information. This simple step will give law enforcement and national security officials a powerful tool to crack down on corruption.”

‘Too sweet of a pie’: Cybercriminals steal $8B in Covid relief funds

“The Secret Service and Labor Department have been warning states for months that criminal networks are trying to steal billions of dollars in federal pandemic unemployment aid. But the overburdened and antiquated state systems that send out the checks have been unable to stop a lot of the fraud.

Using huge databases of stolen personal information, cybercriminals based everywhere from Nigeria to London have pocketed an estimated $8 billion meant for people forced out of work due to the coronavirus so far, the Labor Department’s inspector general told states last month. The IG predicts that $26 billion in the federal aid programs alone eventually could be lost to fraud.”

“state workforce agencies, stymied by decades-old IT systems and flooded with applications, have been ill-equipped to find and prevent the fraud, which appears to be far more extensive than the usual attempts to bilk government programs.”

The Myth of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

“While a severe migrant uptick did occur circa 2015, the influx rapidly declined to earlier levels. As economist Bryan Caplan has noted, “total arrivals from 2014 to 2018 came to less than 1 percent of the population of the European Union (E.U.). Many European countries—most notably West Germany during the Cold War—have swiftly absorbed much larger inflows in the past.” By early 2019, the European Commission officially declared an end to the “migration crisis.””

“For a sense of the scope of the fake scare, visit HOAXmap, an internet project constructed in 2016 to track rumors about refugees in Germany. The map currently features 496 rumors in the country and in nearby German-speaking nations.
In early 2018, the German paper Der Spiegel ran its own study of 445 alleged refugee rapes in 10 German states, as reported on Rapefugees.net. One-third of the incidents were filtered out because they were duplicates, broken links, or law enforcement was unaware of the purported crime.

Of the remaining 291 cases, 24 claims were false, others were “less dramatic” than rape (i.e., groping) and 29 percent of cases could not be confirmed or denied. One-third (95) involved refugee suspects. Of 57 actual rape cases, 26 involved refugee suspects, with 18 cases resulting in convictions. Each incident is serious and to be condemned. But the facts don’t support fears of epidemic levels of social breakdown caused by migrants.

Unfortunately, it is easy for people to believe rumors when the rumors match already-held fears, such as the West’s historical mistrust of foreign migrants. Real horrific events like those in Cologne make it even easier to suspend skepticism about similar—but fake—cases. But the apparent chasm between truth and rumor means we need to abandon salacious anecdotes, and instead focus on hard data before presuming there is a crisis that demands a response.”

“A Pew survey from mid-2016 showed 46 percent of Swedes believed “refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups.”

But crime trends there remained steady or declined both before and after the migration explosion”

“The migrant wave’s effect on Germany’s crime rates had also been negligible, as revealed in a series of analyses of local police data from early 2016. For example, a “large majority” of refugees who are registered never show up in police records. Those from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are rarely in criminal statistics. In Cologne, for example, only five of 1,100 (under 0.5 percent) registered Syrians were in trouble with the police between October 2014 and November 2015.

The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) concluded in 2015 that, “on average, refugees commit as many or as few crimes as the local population.” From 2014 to 2015, the refugee population increased 440 percent, while the number of refugee crimes committed rose only 79 percent, according to the BKA. Here, there wasn’t even a correlation: While offenses increased significantly in early 2015, offenses stagnated in late 2015, precisely when “most refugees arrived in Germany.” The BKA concluded that the “vast majority of asylum-seekers [commit] no offenses.”

By 2018, although 44 percent of Germans felt less secure than they did in recent years, their government announced that crime was at a quarter-century low, while Germany’s migrant population was at a record high. As of 2019, the total number of crimes kept falling while the migrant population kept rising.

This does not mean migrants never contribute to Germany’s criminal issues. Indeed, certain immigrant areas reported significant gang problems. Moreover, North African nationals registered high criminal activity relative to the rest of the population. No doubt German law enforcement needs to take notice of these issues. But it would be a mistake to conclude from these specifics that the broader Middle Eastern migrant wave is the problem, when crime rates from certain Eastern European nationals who aren’t normally considered part of this wave are also relatively crime-prone, while nationals from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are relatively crime-free. Rather, the overall picture is clear: Migrants were not a special criminal problem in Germany.”

[Sweden]: “”the number of reported rape offences has increased by 34 per cent over the last ten years (2009-2018)” because the definition of rape was legally expanded. In 2013, just before the latest European migrant wave, the definition was “expanded to include cases where the victim reacts passively.” An earlier legislative change in 2005 meant that “certain acts which were previously classified as sexual exploitation are now classified as rape.” These include sex with persons who are asleep or intoxicated.

The changing definition of rape maps much better to the data than do refugee numbers”

“When it comes to terrorism, neither migrants nor migration are the dominant part of the problem. They could, however, be part of the solution to extremist threats, especially threats from the Middle East. If the American experience is at all transferable to Europe, welcomed and assimilated Muslims could be an asset that would strengthen Europe’s security and reduce radicalism.”

The End of Policing left me convinced we still need policing

“while there is a strong research base for believing that having police on the beat reduces crime, these same studies find that the aggressive “suspicious behavior” stops and stop-and-frisk tactics that have poisoned police-community relations have no real crime-fighting value.”

“there’s a substantial literature in economics and sociology arguing that more police on the beat equals less violent crime. One effort to quantify this precisely is a 2018 Review of Economics and Statistics article by Aaron Chalfin and Justin McCrary. It estimates, based on a big set of police and crime data from large and midsize cities between 1960 and 2010, that every $1 spent on extra police generates about $1.63 in social benefits, primarily by reducing murders. One needn’t take this literature as gospel truth, but one of the go-to scholars on the abolitionist position should be able to — and want to — counter the prevailing academic claim that investments in policing pay off in reduced violent crime.”

“American policing needs to change. And there’s at least some reason to think that reducing the scope of policing can and should be a big part of that change. Fairly mild policy changes undertaken over the past few years have delivered results in terms of fewer police killings of unarmed people, and there’s reason to believe that plenty of opportunity exists for further reform.

But policing is important. There’s evidence that the number of police has an effect on crime, especially violent crime. And when crime soars, not only do the direct victims suffer but we run the risk that economically diverse cities will unravel as people with means flee to the suburbs.”

“Patrick Sharkey, a Princeton sociologist who is clearly sympathetic to the goals of the defunding movement, writes in a Washington Post piece arguing for a greater role for local leaders and communities in containing violence that “those who argue that the police have no role in maintaining safe streets are arguing against lots of strong evidence. One of the most robust, most uncomfortable findings in criminology is that putting more officers on the street leads to less violent crime.””

“the importance and efficacy of what police officers do doesn’t hinge on believing they’re angels. The number of officers patrolling the street has an effect on the murder rate.”

“European countries have higher rates of problematic teen drinking, as well as a higher rate of cirrhosis deaths. What’s true is that drunkenness is less problematic in Europe because there is more mass transit and fewer guns, so the range of possible alcohol-related harms is narrower.”

“laxer pot rules mean more pot consumption. Laxer alcohol rules mean more alcohol consumption. And laxer heroin rules would likely mean more heroin consumption. One can certainly make a case for this (criminalization has not been a rousing success story), but it requires some real argument.”

“Many faddish implicit bias trainings don’t really seem to work. But there are promising results from several different procedural justice trainings. More to the point, Vitale himself says that “in some ways training is actually part of the problem” because “in recent decades, the emphasis has shifted heavily toward officer safety training.” Instead of receiving training that creates an exaggerated sense of threat (police work is dangerous, but officers’ death rates are lower than for fishers or roofers), police should be provided with deescalation training (which has been found to be at least somewhat effective) and, more importantly, required to use it with real consequences for officers who don’t.”

“collective bargaining agreements make it extremely difficult to fire police with records of misconduct. Those who are dismissed are often ordered to be rehired. And police officers who are permanently fired — which, to be clear, means they have passed a high bar for badness — often get hired at other jurisdictions. Meanwhile, the “qualified immunity” doctrine immunizes police for civil penalties for misconduct.
Per what records are available, a relatively small number of officers are committing most of the misconduct, but studies show that bad behavior can spread like a virus to peer officers. Getting rid of the worst 5 percent of officers could eliminate an enormous share of the misconduct, halt the spread of bad norms throughout departments, and open up new hiring opportunities to create more diverse forces.”

“As the defund debate has played out in the public sphere, an idea has taken hold that not only should America spend more on social services but that the police are the reason we can’t or won’t do that.”

“police spending is a relative drop in the bucket of state and local government budgets; at the federal level, it’s even smaller.”

“It’s true that the government should be spending more on housing and mental health programs and that doing so would probably reduce crime. But it would probably reduce crime by freeing up officers to do more police work. And there’s no particular reason the money for it has to come out of police departments. If you compare the United States to Europe, the reason Europe has a more generous welfare state is a much higher overall level of spending — not that the US has overfunded the police.”

“The problem with America’s police officers is that they’re too unaccountable and lawless, operating with too much job security and a sense of impunity, not that there are too many of them.”

Miami Has Recorded No Homicides in 6 Weeks Despite Deliberate Decline in Police Enforcement

“Fears of COVID-19 infection may have emptied the streets of Miami, but criminals are not taking advantage of the situation. Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina says that not only has violent crime plunged in the city, but Miami has not reported a homicide in six weeks. That hasn’t happened since 1964.”