Homicides are up, but GOP misleads with claims about blame

Crime Spike Misinformation

WASHINGTON (AP) — “SKYROCKETING MURDER RATES,” claimed the National Fraternal Order of Police. “An explosion of violent crime," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Democrat-run cities across the country who cut funding for police have seen increases in crime,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

On social media and in political speeches, some Republicans and pro-police groups say last year's calls to slash spending on law enforcement have led to a dramatic rise in killings in cities overseen by Democrats.

The increases they cite are real, and several big cities did make cuts to police spending. But the reductions were mostly modest, and the same big increases in homicides are being seen nationwide — even in cities that increased police spending. At the same time, the rates for burglaries, drug offenses and many other types of crime are down in many cities across the country.

The effort to blame Democrats for crime may offer a preview of Republicans' strategy for upcoming elections: a new twist on an old “law and order” argument from the party's past, harkening back to President Richard Nixon.

Just as it did half a century ago, the argument ignores the complicated reasons for fluctuations in crime rates — a list that today includes the upheaval wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd by police.

“2020 was just a crazy complicated year where lots of things happened, and there are lots of potential explanations for why we saw these big changes,” said David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, who tracks crime rates and is studying the impact of the pandemic. The bottom line? “It's complicated.”

Late last month, the National Fraternal Order of Police posted a graphic on social media showing big increases in the homicide rate in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon — all cities currently led by Democrats. “The leadership in all of these cities turned the keys over to the ‘Defund the Police’ mob,” the post read.

The numbers in it were alarming: Homicides in Chicago, up by 22% through late May compared with the same period last year. In Minneapolis, homicides were up by 56%; in Portland, 800%.

Top Republicans have taken up the claim, too.

“Look at what’s happening where they’re defunding the police," former President Donald Trump said Saturday at the North Carolina GOP convention, echoing an argument he made on the campaign trail last year. "The crime rate is going up by 50, 60, 100%, 131% in one city.”

Killings have been on the rise since 2020, but the numbers don't tell the whole story about reductions in police spending or a troubling increase in homicides being seen throughout the country.

Last year in Minneapolis, city officials shifted $8 million — less than 5% of the police budget — to programs focused on community mental health and violence prevention. In February, they approved $6.4 million to hire new police officers after an unprecedented number of officers retired or went on extended medical leave following Floyd's killing.

In Portland, homicides were up from six in the first five months of 2020 to 38 in the first five months of 2021, according to city police data, a more than 530% increase. That's lower than the 800% increase claimed by the Fraternal Order of Police, which said it was based on homicides through May 25.

The city, a center of defund police efforts, trimmed its police budget last year by less than 4%, far short of the $50 million in cuts sought by activists.

This year, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, has sought greater funds for programs targeting gun violence, which he said is a national problem. “It has reached crisis proportions,” he said in March.