With a post-pandemic surge in crimes, the people of America scramble to find a solution to this latest problem. The police force has always been met with mixed emotions, but the latest sentiment is one that works in their favor. As opposed to last year’s defund the police campaign, this year, the public is thinking about refunding the police.
Shootings, homicides, and violent crimes are at an all-time high after the pandemic. The most obvious answer to this is an increase in the police force. But like many other things in life, the obvious answer is not always the best one. While this solution can be useful, it comes with many downsides too. The most obvious ones are an increase in negative interactions with the police, more cases of police violence, and further damage to the public trust. There is also always the question that does other anti-crime strategies, such as more jobs for the youth, better drug treatment programs, better access to mental health care, etc., work better in the long run to reduce crime rates?
In certain cities like Atlanta and Seattle, voters displayed their support for mayoral candidates that suggested expanding the police force. But on the other hand, a ballot that would have required Austin, Texas, to hire more police officers was rejected by a wide margin by the city’s residents. There are conflicting views regarding the increased funding of the police.
Dr. Aaron Chalfin, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said that 54 percent of the time, homicides fell after cities hired more officers. He acknowledged that more factors come into play in this reduction in crime than just expansion of the police force, but he also said, “On average if you look across many cities for many years, there is an effect.” But increasing the number of officers has not shown uniform results in the past. His forthcoming paper suggests that the homicide rates did not change in certain cities despite hiring more officers. Instead, there were just more arrests for low-level crimes such as alcohol-related offenses that do not impact public safety.
While some studies and statistics suggest that hiring more officers can help decrease crime rates, not everyone is on board with the idea of doing so. Many believe it is better to find out the root causes of crimes and address those causes rather than act after the crime has been committed.
Since crime rates are hard to explain, those in power are easier to exploit to push their agendas to increase the police budget. Generally, murder, rape, robbery, and arson are more highlighted. But civil rights violations, violence by police, and correction officers are not highlighted enough. Sociologist Tamara K. Nopper also pointed out that crime statistics have their limitations as the police collect them and the police decide what is categorized as a crime.
In the long run, fixing the root causes, such as high unemployment rates, low literacy rates, and poor access to mental health care, could be a better solution. These solutions also have fewer strings attached and will probably have higher benefits to risk ratio than increased policing. In a recent survey of criminal justice experts, about 66% agreed that increasing the police budget would reduce crime rates. But 85% said that a larger budget for housing, health, employment, and education would be the solution.
While there are many ideas and theories regarding how to reduce crime rates, there are still no clear answers because criminal activity has many confounding factors. Approaches like the broken window theory suggest that people are more likely to commit serious crimes if a neighborhood is more untidy and disorderly. And experiments suggest that cleaning up an area can impact the behavior of the residents and bring down crime rates. “Questions such as whether an increase in the police force is the best way to reduce crime rates or are there more manageable and less expensive solutions that are efficacious in dealing with the problem at hand remain,” says criminal attorney Allen Yates of Yates & Wheland.
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