Is There a New Crime Wave? Columnist Says No


Washington Post Columnist Radley Balko disputes claims that “we are in the throes of a new nationwide crime wave” due to the “chorus of police reform advocates and critics of police brutality since the Ferguson protest last summer.” Critics like Heather Mac Donald claim that protests and criticisms in the wake of Ferguson, and other incidents more recently like the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, have caused cops “to become disillusioned, cynical, and afraid to do their jobs.”

Mr. Balko writes, “Mac Donald’s piece itself was incredibly cynical. It tied into a growing backlash against police reform from law enforcement groups, police unions, and the law-and-order crowd, and has circulated widely among those groups. Implicit in her argument is the idea that the average police officer is incapable of doing his job properly if other police officers are getting criticized, rebuked, or held accountable for misconduct.”

Mr. Balko continues, “It also ignored a lot of the larger issues to come out of Ferguson and Baltimore, issues that went well beyond the behavior and performance of individual cops, such as the way St. Louis County municipalities soak their residents to fund the county’s astonishingly large population of local fiefdoms, or Baltimore’s troubled racial history, or the city’s 2000s policy of mass arrests as a means of social control and the damage done by giving poor people an arrest record when they’ve committed no crime.”

However, the New York Daily News disputes the account by Ms. Mac Donald. Franklin Zimring writes, “Mac Donald’s recital of frightening statistics plays special attention to the problems in New York City and Los Angeles, America’s two largest cities and most prominent urban success stories in crime reduction in the past two decades. Bill Bratton, now in his second stint in New York, has served as commissioner of both departments.

“We are told shootings are up in both Los Angeles and New York, and that ‘the most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months,’” he notes.

However, Mr. Zimring concludes, “Is there a nationwide crime wave? On current evidence, probably not, and a careful analysis of official statistics in New York and Los Angeles provides reason for reassurance rather than alarm.”

For instance, in New York, “The most recent official crime statistics indicate that so far in 2015, the city has experienced significant declines from 2014’s ultra-low levels in burglary, robbery and larceny. At the same time, total homicides for the first five months of the year at 135 are higher than in 2014 — but quite close to the pace of 2013 and around 30% lower than in 2010.”

However, even with that, at the current rate, “killings in New York City would end 2015 as either the third or fourth lowest year in the city’s modern history.”

Mr. Balko argues, instead, “Crime stats can’t just keep falling forever. And in places like New York, crime rates have reached astonishing depths. Inching back upward — to levels that would be historic lows just a few years ago — isn’t indicative of a coming national crime wave. It may just be statistical noise, or a leveling off.”

As Mr. Zimring notes, crime rates for other crimes continue to fall. So, he writes that if the so-called Ferguson Effect “has indeed increased the New York homicide total, should it also get credit for the 223 fewer robberies so far in 2015 when compared to the previous year? How about the 974 fewer burglaries in five months?”

Furthermore, in Los Angeles, homicides are actually down in 2015 – despite not only the turmoil nationwide, but also local changes in the laws.

Mr. Balko takes issue with Ms. Mac Donald’s argument that there has been a surge in violence against cops. She writes that the killings of citizens “have led to riots, violent protests and attacks on the police.” She then adds, “Murders of officers jumped 89% in 2014, to 51 from 27.”

But as Mr. Balko points out that, while the murder of officers did climb in 2014, it came after a historic low in 2013. Moreover, many of the officer killings in 2014 predated the Ferguson incident – “of the 51 murders of police officers last year, just 19 occurred after the death of Michael Brown on August 9th.”

Even with the increases in 2014, “it’s still the sixth safest year for cops since the 1950s, and below the average over the last 10 years, a period in which the number each year trended downward. If you look at the rate of murder of cops, the relative safety of cops today is even more impressive.”

Ms. Mac Donald, according to Mr. Balko, “is also sly with her cutoff points. She cites the increase in homicides of cops from 2014 over 2013 to support her contention that the reaction to the deaths of Brown, Garner, and Gray are driving violence against police. But while there were a couple smaller protests in July shortly after Garner was killed, the protests didn’t really heat up until December, after a grand jury declined to indict the cop that killed him. It was during the December protests that police and law-and-order pundits began to complain about the anti-police rhetoric. It’s hard to blame protests held in December 2014 for an increase in killings of police that took place over the course of the entire year. Mac Donald also mentions the Freddie Gray protests. But Gray was killed this year, not last year. It’s misleading to cite either of these cases for an increase in police fatalities in 2014.”

Moving to the issue of Baltimore. Mr. Balko acknowledges, “It is true that we’re seeing an awful surge in murders in St. Louis and Baltimore right now. Mac Donald blames this on police reform activists by claiming their rhetoric both emboldens criminals and makes cops either afraid or unwilling to do their jobs.”

Implicit in this argument is that it “seems to be that people should just keep quiet in the face of what they perceive to be brutality and injustice, lest it embolden violence against the police.” Mr. Balko argues that “the protests in St. Louis were about much, much more than Michael Brown. That’s true in Baltimore too, but there the instigating incident also appears to have been much more egregious and unjustifiable than the one in St. Louis.”

The argument, he says, appears to be: “Either live with harassment and abuse from the police, or live in fear of crime.” He argues, “[S]urely we can do better than that.

“The second point is more alarming,” Mr. Balko argues. “If police in Baltimore and St. Louis are letting protesters and critics make them too afraid or spiteful to do their jobs, essentially turning their backs to allow people to be robbed and killed, that isn’t a problem with protester or social justice culture, it’s a  problem with police culture.”

He writes, “One would hope that a conscientious cop would be encouraged by the indictment of a bunch of cops for giving allegedly giving a man an illegal, extra-judicial punishment that resulted in his death. Getting bad cops, law-breaking cops off the street is after all a boon to law and order, not to mention to the reputation of cops who do it right. Instead, we’re told by law enforcement groups and their advocates that your average, well-intentioned cop is so outraged by these indictments that he’s refusing to do his job. Or, more ridiculous still, that even the good cops are hesitating to protect people out of some fear that they’ll be publicly criticized by racial justice groups. For a profession that takes such pride in its bravery, police advocates make cops seem remarkably thin-skinned.

“So what is causing the surge of murders in Baltimore and St. Louis?”

Mr. Balko writes, “Perhaps Mac Donald is right that in those cities in particular, anger against police brutality is spilling over into violence. I haven’t seen convincing evidence to prove or disprove the point.”

He offers another possibility, “In the meticulously researched book American Homicide, historian and sociologist Randolph Roth argues that historically, that two of the factors that cause homicides to soar in American cities are a sense of a loss of government legitimacy, and a loss of a feeling of belonging among outcast or historically oppressed groups. That would certainly seem to be the case in both St. Louis and Baltimore. These are difficult things to quantify, but so is Mac Donald’s insinuation that criticizing cops for alleged brutality makes people want to murder them.”

He continues, “Ultimately, arguments like Mac Donald’s are aimed at exploiting fear of crime to shame people who dare to speak up about police abuse — or at least to shunt them to the fringe of the public discourse. But as Zimring points out, stoking up fears about crime based on questionable data has in the past had some devastating consequences.”

Mr. Zimring writes, “One historical footnote to last week’s crime wave prediction may put Mac Donald’s alarmism in perspective: The same Manhattan Institute that employs her also published a warning by John Dilulio in 1996 that the United States would produce approximately 270,000 more juvenile super-predators by 2010. It’s title: ‘How to stop the coming crime wave.’”

However, “That famously predicted crime wave never happened. But last week’s revival of dire predictions suggests that the Manhattan Institute has a long-standing tendency to view crime trends with alarm for political effect.”

Mr. Balko adds, “Not only did that crime wave never happen, but the U.S. entered into its longest sustained drop in violent crime on record. (Dilulio has since admitted that he was mistaken.) The ‘super predator’ panic unleashed a number of draconian sentencing laws that put young kids away for long sentences by treating them as adults in the court system. It did irreparable harm to a generation of mostly black, low-income communities.

“Fear of crime,” Mr. Balko argues “is a powerful political motivator.”

A final point to highlight is Mr. Balko’s point that Ms. Mac Donald’s “argument also relies on the assumption that successful crime control is only achieved through ‘broken windows’ policing, dehumanizing policies like stop-and-frisk, and giving cops wide latitude when it comes to using force.”

He notes, “There are enough studies out there on these policies to find impressive-sounding support for whatever position you want to take on them.”

However, “But in a free society, we should want the police to employ the least amount of force to achieve the best possible results. Or to put it another way, if we see similar drops in crime with aggressive policing that we see with more community-oriented policing, we should opt for the less aggressive, more community-oriented methods. And in places like Richmond, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Dallas, Texas.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Frankly

    I think this is just more of the same tactic of using historical statistics that tell the story of improvements to make a case that we can change… when the existing standards were primarily responsible for the improvements.

    Crime does not just increase immediately, it takes some time for the elements of crime to organize and a local community to adopt more of it into their standards of behavior.   If we follow this twisted and irrational demand from social justice crusaders to relax on law enforcement because it is negatively impacting the lives of those that tend to ignore and break the laws, we will increase the number of people that ignore and break the laws.  It is really quite simple.

    Instead of pushing this argument that a relaxation of law enforcement is not going to result in increased crime (a really stupid position to take, IMO), social justice crusaders should instead be making a case for how much crime we should tolerate in a free society.   It would be a much more honest and useful debate.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “when the existing standards were primarily responsible for the improvements.”

      that’s not really true.  first of all, trends started before “existing standards” were “existing standards.”  second, that ignores that different policies have been implemented in different locations, so we can compare results.  third, the biggest reason for the decrease in crime is demographic.  the population in the country has aged over the last forty years and therefore a lower percentage of people are in crime ages.

    2. Davis Progressive

      “Instead of pushing this argument that a relaxation of law enforcement is not going to result in increased crime (a really stupid position to take, IMO), social justice crusaders should instead be making a case for how much crime we should tolerate in a free society.   It would be a much more honest and useful debate.”

      the other problem as laid out in this article is the problem of time.  you have a long trendline of declining crime, you have what right is a blip in that pattern.  you might be able to argue that it’s a start of a trend, but you lack the data to do so.  but even if you do, the trend somehow started before the events that supposedly triggered it even occurred.  how does that happen?

        1. Davis Progressive

          i don’t agree.  if your point is true data will back it up, right now the data is too limited to make a determination.  common sense is a code word for ‘i can’t prove my comment, but this is how i feel.’

        2. Miwok

          DP “follows the data”. Since not all data is reported, you are working with half a loaf and calling it good. Common sense is really “Crime is wrong, don’t steal”. When you get that right, you don’t worry about statistics. There won’t be any.

          Who “determined” that the longer they kept young people in jail, the worse it was for the rest of us? Who “determined” that if prisoners couldn’t breed and leave a wasted trail of illegitimate children and young women behind, it was bad? Who “determined” that drug offenses are Misdemeanors worthy of letting dealers out of prison? Oh, the voters. Then they cry over their addicted children, or the lack of rehab, and wonder why?

          As a statistics guy, the first thing you do is collect the data. There is only selective data in these pronouncements of “fact” and the “determinations” are based on data sets that are not complete, devoid of any comparisons to other data, or lacking any scientific method at all. This article points out crime is down, proving statistics are merely based on the data input, not all the data. When data is collected, a la Ferguson, there is quite a different result.

          Is the commentary worth it? I think so, and if there are bad cops and they are no longer defended by their organization or superiors, that is good. They need to find another line of work. Some of the superiors could also be gone too.

        3. Davis Progressive

          i think one of the more stunning things for me is that something as simple as officer involved shootings were not adequately monitored and documented.  so if you want to argue that we have limited data – i agree.  we have the make the best decisions that we can based on limited data.  but the crime rate at least gives us a baseline.

          this report to me just says, slow down a little, see what happens longer term.  especially in baltimore, i expect things to settle down and then you’ll see if this is a trend or a blip.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Good quotes, several citizens saying this was not a matter of race.

        I believe I saw in one clip a member of the crowd who was surrounding the police officer, I thought I saw one man (white?) reaching for his waistband … if that is the case, a seasoned officer would notice that. That may have prompted him to pull his revolver as a precautionary matter. I do think his behavior didn’t help things.

        It doesn’t sound like we have the whole story.


        1. Davis Progressive

          the problem was whether or not the security guard was motivated out of race to call the police, the police singled out the black kids.  several white kids have said that.

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          At least one white child was arrested. We don’t have all the facts, and don’t know what caused the police to be called. There are reports there was vandalism and kids climbing the fence to crash a party. We didn’t see what happened before the short video tape.

        3. TrueBlueDevil

          I think it is the modern day police credo, to answer with sufficient numbers. I’ve seen Picnic Day pictures where 8 or 9 officers are there for the arrest of one drunk person.

          But we know where you’re going.

        4. Davis Progressive

          picnic was pretty unusual especially that year.  normally you don’t have more than four or five cops on duty in the city.  and picnic day was an overreaction by the police.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the problem with these kinds of reports, is that lawyers make motions all the time.  remember when the marsh defense attorney tried to close the courtroom to the public?  anything for a strategic advantage.

      1. Barack Palin

        It’s normal policy for autopsy reports to be released.  Moseby said she didn’t want to release it because she didn’t want the to taint and be tried by the public before the trial, but that’s hilarious because she had done exactly that with her press conference right after the incident.


        1. Davis Progressive

          yes, it’s normal policy for autopsies to be released, that’s why she has to file a motion to keep it from being released.  it will be denied.

  2. TrueBlueDevil

    This was a long article, but it seems like David passed over the horrendous murder rate for Baltimore the past month which set several dubious records.
    TownHall: Crime Wave: Murders Skyrocket Across The Country in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta, New York City
    “Anti-police sentiment in big cities across the country comes at a cost and we’re seeing it now with skyrocketing crime statistics from St. Louis to New York City. 
    Baltimore – Murders have doubled with 43 homicides last month alone [up 37%]
    Chicago – 900+ shootings this year
    St. Louis – 55 murders this year
    Dallas – Violent crime up 10 percent
    Atlanta – Homicides up 32 percent
    Milwaukee – Homicides up by 180 percent
    New York City – Murders up 20 percent
    Houston has seen a jump.

    1. Davis Progressive

      one striking thing about the cities you cite – while baltimore, st. louis and new york had incidents, chicago, dallas, atlanta and milwaukee have not.  that would tend to negate the hypothesis that police incidents and protests are driving the rise in crime.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        The Ferguson Effect isn’t just tied to Ferguson. The Internet, TV, social media and George Soros carry the message of Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Matthews and Barack Obama.

        1. Frankly

          Yes, again common sense.  DP is so stuck in his “cops are assh**es” views, he will never give up.

          There are no more bad cops than there are bad layers… probably fewer… but the political left with help from their pals in the left media are flaming the race fires to deflect populist anger from their crappy political performance, and toward things that the political right holds dear… like law and order.

          And cops across the country are saying “ok, I will take your liberal approach to law enforcement and let you see the results.”

          But DP will never admit the results.  He will always cherry-pick his data and extend or contract the timeline.

          What he is really betting… that the cops will get over their “blue flu” and get back to work again cracking the heads of dangerous criminals.  That way DP will have his cop-vs.-black storyline back, and more people will be made safe again.

        2. Davis Progressive

          that’s spurious to me.  so now you’re blaming a far off and distant even for a spike in crime in some cities but not others.  talk about unprovable hypotheses.

        3. Davis Progressive

          “There are no more bad cops than there are bad layers… probably fewer”

          probably true since there are a lot more lawyers than police officers.  then again, i’ve been a pretty consistent critic of prosecutorial misconduct, as has the vanguard.  so i’m not sure where you’re going with that.

        4. TrueBlueDevil

          Makes perfect sense. The Ferguson Effect.

          With social media, national events can become local tinderboxes, especially with al of the social justice and grievance hustlers out there. We’ve also had Al Sharpton, Eric Holder, Barack Obama and George Soros funded organizations beating the drums for years.

          Besides, if your economic policies fail, your health care rollout fails, and your amnesty program fails in the courts, it’s probably a good strategy to change the discussion, right?

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    Oh lookey, even though a Sacramento Deputy DA is praising Prop 47, she then let’s out this whopper!

    Sac Bee: “The law prohibits the release of offenders who have past convictions for murder or certain sex crimes. Still, “there are a lot of dangerous people who have been released under Prop. 47,” Shakely said. “The public would be surprised by the people who have been released under this law.” “


    1. Davis Progressive

      a whopper?  as in, a falsehood?  the people released are there on drug or low level property crimes, if they are “dangerous” there are not there on dangerous crimes.  to me, that’s just da-speak – non-descript, no details.

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