President Biden's anti-crime bill: Will it make America safer?
President Biden’s $37 billion anti-crime plan.
A third of the money would go to hiring more cops. But critics say that’s not how to reduce crime.
“What Biden is essentially saying with 100,000 more cops is that he is willing to increase the number of Black people who are unjustly murdered for the goal of appeasing whites who incorrectly think that more cops reduce crime,” Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation, says.
“So he’s not actually solving a problem, but he’s willing to create one.”
Today, On Point: Parsing the president’s plan to reduce crime in America.
Richard Rosenfeld, emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has authored reports for the Council on Criminal Justice of crime trends since the height of the pandemic. Co-author of Crime and the American Dream.
Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation. Author of Allow Me To Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide To The Constitution. (@ElieNYC)
On whether the bill will reduce crime in America
Richard Rosenfeld: “That very much depends on how the plan is implemented. As you mentioned, it’s unlikely that all facets of this plan will make it through Congress. I think we’ll have a better sense of that after the midterm elections. But, finally, you know, the old saying, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s going to depend on how the plan is implemented locally. One of the things I like about this plan is that it sets out some pretty clear guidelines about how local agencies can obtain these funds.
“The funds aren’t simply going to be delivered to them automatically. They’re going to have to apply for them. And for example, with respect to hiring more police officers, the agencies will have to demonstrate that those officers will, in fact, be out of patrol, not simply sitting behind a desk. They’ll be trained in so-called community policing and also de-escalation techniques. And so the plan contains requirements for how the money should be used. And we’ll just have to see the degree to which those requirements make it into practice.”
On what’s happened to crime rates over the last few years
Richard Rosenfeld: “Let’s start, though, with an assessment of what’s actually happened to crime rates over the last couple of years. Homicide rates rose by approximately 30% across the country in 2020, during the height of the pandemic. And in many of the cities that I’ve looked at as part of the Council on Criminal Justice, a series of reports on crime trends. It turns out that in many cities those increases began to occur almost immediately after the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis and widespread protests, demonstrations emerged across the country. So we’re beginning to look now at some of the factors associated with the rise.
“… In fact, crime rates during the height of the pandemic, overall crime rates, including the rates of serious crime, came down. The large exception was the increase in homicide we saw. And of course, that’s a very important exception. And there was an increase in non-fatal gun related crime, but overall crime rates came down. Larceny rates, which are … by far the most voluminous of serious crimes, they dropped during the pandemic. A big chunk of larceny is shoplifting, and when the shops are closed, there’s no shoplifting. So that’s one point I’d like to make, that overall crime rates came down. Homicide being an obviously important exception.
“Since the height of the pandemic, what we’ve seen is, in ’21, a continuing rise in homicide, though, at a slower pace. Homicides went up 5% in ’21 compared to the year before. And so far this year, at least through the end of June, we’ve seen overall homicide rates in the cities that we look at in the Council on Criminal Justice reports, flatten and even come down a bit. Other researchers have found the same thing. So we’re seeing some flattening of homicide, though we still have a long way to go to bring homicide levels back to where they were before the pandemic.”
Do you think the bill impact neighborhoods that have felt a rise in homicides over the past few years?
Elie Mystal: “Sure, it will have an impact if what you want is more dead Black people. I honestly cannot believe that we are back here talking about the failed programs of the nineties here in the 2020s. 100,000 new cops will have a statistically provable effect on this country. That effect will lead to more dead Black people, more harassed Black people, and more constitutionally violated Black people, because that’s what cops do. That’s what the studies say cops do. There is no study that shows that a random increase in funding, funding, funding of more police leads to a reduction of crime. But there is evidence that increasing the police force leads to the increasing danger towards unarmed, innocent, non-criminal Black citizens.
“To say nothing of the fact that there is very inconclusive evidence about whether actual boots on the ground, actual cops on the street actually work to prevent crime. Some studies say there is some effect. Some studies say there is no effect. But you know what? Again, the studies tend to agree with that. The police aren’t really there to stop crime. They’re there to arrest people after they’ve committed the crime. And if you don’t believe me, just look at Uvalde, where we had, I don’t know how many cops, standing outside, when crime was happening inside a school, doing nothing.
” … This is not just one plan. This is a bunch of plans. This is a bunch of different proposals. There’s not one line in this plan. Not one stitch in this plan about police accountability. And I’m sorry I’m heated … but it offends me that the president who is in office, in part on the backs of a summer of sweaty protests, of dangerous protests, where Black people put their bodies on the line to protest police brutality. It offends me that this president who was in office, in part because of that, is now out here with a plan that says not one line about police accountability or police punishment. When they inevitably kill the Black people that we know they will, based on historical evidence.”
On the real purpose of the Biden bill
Elie Mystal: “As opposed to an actual attempt to address deep problems with crime, gun violence, and what have you. This is an attempt to give cover to moderate, centrist Democrats in swing states who need something to run on. To say that, Oh, they are doing something about crime.
“And once again, it is a deal that centrist Democrats have made for the past 30 or 40 years. It is offering up cracking the skulls of Black and brown people for the appearance of safety to help a political election, as opposed to something like the George Floyd policing bill, which was … one of the things that helped ride Biden into office. This is what he wants to run on in the midterms.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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