House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy alleged on Monday that violent crime has spiked in cities that took money away from police budgets, taking aim at the current "defund the police" movement that began gaining traction in the wake of several high profile police killings.
"As predicted, cities that have defunded police have seen a spike in violent crime," McCarthy tweeted, attaching a video of an interview with KGET, in which he made a similar claim.
"If you watch the spike of what’s happening inside these cities that have defunded police, it’s exactly what we predicted what would happen: Crime is rising," he said in the video. "This is what happens when you take police away."
But the facts don't support McCarthy's claim.
It is true that most cities regularly experience an increase in crime during the summer months, as CNN reported in mid-July, with children and teens out of school and more people gathering outdoors.
Further, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld told CNN that it is "reasonably clear" this year that some of the increase in crimes are related to cities relaxing stay-at-home orders put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He added that the unrest caused by protests to end racist police brutality may also have contributed to some higher crime rates.
An examination of police data, however, shows no evidence to support McCarthy's assertion linking the effort to "defund the police" to an increase in crime.
In late June, Axios reported that cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Portland, and Seattle had taken steps to shift funding away from police departments in response to the "defund the police" movement. The amount of defunding ranged from $15 million in Portland to $22 million in Baltimore.
Data from those police departments show violent crime did not spike in any of the four cities over both the past month or year-over-year. In several cities, the number of violent crimes decreased.
In Baltimore, the number of violent crimes (aggravated assault, homicide, carjacking, street robberies, and shootings) has not spiked as McCarthy suggested. In fact, over the past 60 days, they've remained relatively flat, according to data from the Baltimore City Police Department. Violent crimes in the city appear to have decreased by around 3% from the end of March 2019 to the end of March 2020, according to the most recent year-to-year data available on the department's website.
Violent crime in Philadelphia (homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) decreased slightly over the past month, dropping 5.3% from mid-June to mid-July compared to mid-May to mid-June, according to data released Monday morning. Violent crime rates over the past several months have remained relatively stagnant in the city, and over the past year, dropped by 4.4%
In Portland, overall crime was lower in April 2020 compared to both March 2020 and April 2019. Violent crime (assault homicide, human trafficking, kidnapping, and sex offenses) decreased from 746 in March to 664 in April, the latest months available from the Portland Police Department.
The same pattern was true in Seattle, where total crime has been trending down since January, and crime in both May and June 2020 was lower than the same months in 2019. Violent crime in Seattle (homicide, rape, and aggravated assault) remained largely the same from May to June.
The "defund the police" movement stemmed from a wave of protests against racism and police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, both of whom were Black, at the hands of white police officers.
The movement seeks to shift some funding away from police departments in order to "invest in the resources that our communities need," Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, explained on "Meet the Press" in early June.
"So much of policing right now is generated and directed towards quality-of-life issues, homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence," she said. "… But what we do need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education, we need increased funding for quality of life of communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled."
Portland, for example, cut $15 million from the police budget in June, and will invest $5 million from that into a new city program to send unarmed first responders to deal with calls focused on the homeless population.
"People are trying to figure out what kind of society would be possible that doesn't rely on police and prisons to solve its problems," Brooklyn College sociology professor Alex Vitale told NBC News, "and that's a long-term political vision that is important to this movement."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.