The Murder Spike of 2020: When Police Pull Back

I’m not sure about the degree to which there has actually been a “police pull back” following last year’s anti-police protests. Insufficient research has been done on the subject. But it is entirely possible, even probable, that there has been a police retreat in some localities, or in some neighborhoods, or with regard to certain kinds of offenses. This is the pattern I would predict: In response to anti-police protests/riots, the police presence in poor, urban neighborhoods decreases, and law enforcement becomes less stringent generally (e.g. not arresting vagrants pissing in alleys, etc.). A combined lack of police action and the effects of the pandemic and lockdowns results in an increase in crime in poor urban communities. Affluent sections of cities, business districts, civic organizations, etc. become concerned about crime, so police attempt to steer crime toward poor neighborhoods and away from affluent ones. A crime becomes concentrated in particular areas, it starts to have a spillover effect on surrounding areas that are more upwardly mobile or at least more middle class. Renewed calls for law and order then take place.

If crime rates continue to rise in the future, there will be two likely responses from the system. Traditional police statists will be calling for a return to the “broken windows,” “three strikes,” etc. law and order approach that characterized policing in the 1990s and 2000s. However, the rising totalitarian humanist sector of the ruling class may use this issue as a pretext for creating a much centralized or federalized system of law enforcement. There will be a big split between the woke bourgeoisie, the kinds of folks who have BLM stickers on their car but want the homeless out of their neighborhood, and the further left (which tends to take criminal justice reform more seriously) over these issues. An advantage is that the usually cop-loving pro-gun right may be resistant to having increased police power in the hands of their cultural enemies.

By Peter Moskos, Wall Street Journal

The rise in murders in the U.S. in 2020 was unprecedented. Complete nationwide data for the year won’t be available until September, but we already know that in 70 cities and counties that account for a fifth of the U.S. population, the murder rate rose by 35%. The largest previous increase on record was 13% in 1968—a year that, like 2020, was marked by civil unrest, often triggered by police misconduct, leading to demands for police reform.

In the years before 2020, the murder rate had begun to edge up after a two-decade decline that reached a historic low in 2014. Even so, it rose just 15% in the next five years combined.

Why was 2020 so dramatically different? Some analysts have pointed to the extraordinary circumstances of the year: the stress of Covid-19 and its lockdowns; the plunging economy and spiking unemployment; a virtual standstill in criminal prosecution; the turmoil in city after city following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Some of these factors mattered less than is commonly thought, but others mattered a great deal, especially in their combined impact on policing.


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