“Some recent evidence has suggested that the national period of declining crime—which began in the mid-1990s, as rate of violence fell dramatically in the U.S.—may be over: The most recent Uniform Crime Report (UCR), an important though incomplete snapshot of homicides nationwide, found that homicide had increased by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020.
But just-released data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) paints a much less depressing picture. According to the 2020 NCVS report, the violent crime rate actually declined last year, if homicides are excluded. Moreover, the popular narrative that former President Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric caused some spike in hate crimes against Asian-Americans appears to be wrong. For Asian-American victims, both the violent crime rate and simple assault rate declined from 2019 to 2020.
It’s important to interpret these findings cautiously. The NCVS does not count homicides; the data comes from telephone interviews with random Americans. It’s thus a scientific survey, rather than a tally of actual crimes.
The UCR, on the other hand, consists of crimes reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies. Police departments are not required to report any information at all, which means that the UCR is in some ways more accurate—these are verified reported crimes—but also more statistically unreliable. Year-to-year fluctuations in the data might represent different reporting procedures rather than any actual increase in crime; the overall number of crimes reported to the FBI is obviously just a small snapshot.
The public should take the findings from both reports with a grain of salt. It could be the case, obviously, that murders in cities increased while other categories of crime decreased elsewhere; it’s also possible that certain minority communities suffered increased crime in a manner that isn’t captured by the data. But with so much bad news about rising violence, the NCVS data suggests that things might not be as bad as we think.”
“A working paper published last week by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University and written by researchers at the University at Albany, SUNY and RAND Corporation bills itself as the broadest and most rigorous examination at the school-level of how SROs impact student outcomes. Using national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 collected by the U.S. Department of Education, the paper found that while SROs “do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools,” they do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents.
“We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students,” researchers wrote. “These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students.”
The study found that the introduction of SROs to schools did appear to improve general safety and decrease non-gun-related violence, like fights and physical assaults. However, the authors say, those benefits come at the cost of increasing both school discipline and police referrals.”
“The number of police in schools has skyrocketed in schools over the past four decades, first in response to drugs, then mass shootings. Police departments and organizations like the National Association of School Resource Officers argue that well-trained SROs act as liaisons between the school and police department. A good SRO, they argue, can actually reduce arrests.
Civil liberties groups and disability advocates, on the other hand, have long argued that increases in school police and zero-tolerance policies for petty disturbances have fueled the “school-to-prison” pipeline and led to disproportionate enforcement against minorities and students with disabilities.
Other recent research has come to similar conclusions as the new working paper. For example, a study published last August by researchers at the University of Maryland and the firm Westat found that increasing the number of police in schools doesn’t make school safer and leads to harsher discipline for infractions.”
“The authors of the new working paper say that school districts should weigh the benefits of safer hallways against the high cost of putting more kids in contact with the criminal justice system.”
“Last year, the US’s murder rate spiked by almost 30 percent. So far in 2021, murders are up nearly 10 percent in major cities. The 2020 increase alone is the largest percentage increase ever recorded in America — and a reversal from overall declines in murder rates since the 1990s.”
“There is solid evidence that more police officers and certain policing strategies reduce crime and violence. In a recent survey of criminal justice experts, a majority said increasing police budgets would improve public safety. The evidence is especially strong for strategies that home in on very specific problems, individuals, or groups that are causing a lot of crime or violence — approaches that would require restructuring how many police departments work today.”
“Problems like poverty, education, and other underlying issues that contribute to crime can take years, or even decades, to truly address.
The impact of police, meanwhile, tends to happen quickly — almost immediately deterring and intercepting would-be criminals with the presence of officers. For policymakers looking for quick action, that’s an important distinction, suggesting that police have to play a role even if other social services are deployed for longer-term solutions.”
“Every criminal justice expert I’ve spoken to has also said that more work needs to be done to hold police accountable — and the survey of experts found that most agreed more accountability would also improve public safety.
So the evidence doesn’t indicate that America should continue the punitive, unaccountable model of policing that’s dominated over the past few decades. To the contrary, much of the research supports changes to how policing is done to focus narrowly on problems, city blocks, and even individuals known to disproportionately contribute to crime — contrary to the dragnet approaches, like “stop-and-frisk,” that end up harassing entire communities.
“policing works to reduce crime and violence. But how policing is done can change — and change could even make policing more effective for crime-fighting while addressing some of the problems to which Black Lives Matter protests have called attention.”
“The increase in murder appears to be a uniquely American phenomenon. While murder rates rose in some developed countries last year, like Canada and Germany, the increases are far below the double-digit spikes America is seeing. That’s especially notable because the United States already had a higher baseline of murders, after controlling for population. Despite claims that Democratic mayors or progressive criminal justice policies are driving the increase, it also appears indifferent to the political party in charge: As Asher and criminal justice expert John Pfaff have shown, murder rates increased in cities run by Democrats and Republicans, progressive and not.
The good news is there is a lot more agreement among experts about how to bring down the spike than there is about what caused it. But the best evidence suggests stopping murders in the short term will require more and better, though not necessarily more aggressive, policing — a controversial proposal on the left.
“I know people don’t want to hear this, and I empathize with that,” Anna Harvey, a public safety expert at New York University, told me. “But at least as far as the research evidence goes, for short-term responses to increases in homicides, the evidence is strongest for the police-based solutions.”
The stakes are very high. Nearly 21,000 people were murdered in America in 2020, based on preliminary data. Another increase of 10 percent or more could mean thousands more dead in 2021.”
“Some other kinds of crime also increased, according to this early data, including shootings, aggravated assaults, and car thefts. Still, violent crime in general went up at much lower rates, if at all, compared to murders, and overall crime declined, driven in part by a drop in the majority of property crimes.”
“The closest to a consensus I’ve been able to find in talking to experts about the cause of the murder spike: It’s complicated.
Experts have rejected some possibilities. Given that murders rose in both Democrat- and Republican-run cities, as well as places that adopted criminal justice reforms and those that didn’t, partisanship and criminal justice reforms don’t seem to be a cause.
Three plausible explanations, none of which exclude the others, have come up repeatedly:”
“The pandemic shut down programs that likely safeguard Americans from violence, including policing, social services, and community-led efforts. It left some people, particularly teen boys and young men, with more free time to stew over interpersonal conflict as workplaces and schools shut down. And it fed a general sense of chaos and despair throughout the year, perhaps amplifying perceptions that desperate times can call for desperate measures.
But much of the world also struggled with Covid-19, from Mexico to Canada to much of Europe, and didn’t see double-digit percent increases in murders last year. That suggests the virus can’t be the sole cause.”
“One theory held that officers, afraid of getting caught in the next viral moment that leads to protests, backed off from proactive policing. On the other side, the public could have lost trust in police and been less likely to cooperate as witnesses or informers, making it harder to close cases, make arrests, and get dangerous people off the streets. A greater sense that the criminal justice system can’t be trusted also could have led people to take matters, violently, into their own hands.”
“The US has the most number of guns in civilian hands, and the last year saw a huge spike in the number of firearms purchased by Americans. The research is clear here: More guns mean more gun violence — and more deadly violence, because the presence of a gun allows just about any conflict, from public arguments to domestic abuse, to escalate.”
“Even if new gun purchases weren’t to blame, it’s possible existing guns are: Asher found evidence that more people were carrying guns last year, leading to more police finding guns in the course of an arrest. So perhaps it’s not so much that people bought new firearms but that they started carrying the arsenal of weapons they already had.
Perhaps the best explanation: All of these factors played a role.
There are many ways all these explanations could have interacted. As one example: Covid-19 and protests both fueled a sense that the social fabric was unraveling, and more people — particularly in the worst-off neighborhoods — felt they had to fend for themselves. They equipped themselves with guns to act on their own if they felt a threat. And this made any given conflict more likely to escalate to deadly violence.
Ultimately, though, there are too many unknowns to draw hard conclusions.”
“there’s strong evidence that more police lead to fewer homicides, and solid research backs strategies like hot spot policing and problem-oriented policing.
These strategies tend to be more focused, like hot spot policing’s heightened surveillance of very specific high-crime blocks. Or they tend to be more planned: Problem-oriented policing requires formal evaluations of a problem and solutions, and calls for bringing in community partners to make sure the issue is addressed at its root. It’s a shift from dragnet efforts in which officers target entire neighborhoods to stop or arrest as many people as possible.
In fact, these approaches can actually reduce overall incarceration. For example, the evidence for hot spot policing suggests that officers’ mere presence deters crime, since people are less likely to do illegal things in front of a cop. Police don’t have to do anything — just stand there and watch. And fewer crimes committed means fewer arrests.”
“There’s good evidence for providing summer jobs programs, raising the age to drop out of school, greening vacant lots, installing more streetlights, providing more drug addiction treatment, implementing better gun control, and raising the alcohol tax, among other ideas.
The problem, experts told me, is that even the effective non-police strategies tend to take time to work. Police can be active on a high-crime block in minutes, but it can require years to lift up people and neighborhoods, economically and otherwise, and address root causes of crime that these alternatives are supposed to target. They aren’t all designed to reduce the number of murders quickly.
“It doesn’t mean police are a panacea for these things,” Williams said. “But it does mean we should be very careful about throwing around interventions that we don’t necessarily know come with any important benefits or costs.””
“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.”
““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.”””
“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.”