Police in Much of the U.S. Struggling to Solve Crimes Since Pandemic

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Police departments across the United States are solving fewer crimes than before COVID-19 hit the country in 2020, according to data reported to the FBI.

“The exact causes of the decline in arrests are difficult to pinpoint, but the timing is clearly tied to the summer of 2020, suggesting that changes in policing and America’s dwindling confidence in law enforcement since the killing of George Floyd played a role,” Jeff Asher, who has expertise in evaluating criminal justice data, writes in the Dec. 5 New York Times.

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes on May 25, 2020, as he pleaded for air. Floyd’s killing set off protests around the world over police brutality and racial stereotyping and led to a number of policing reform efforts, including movements to cut funding for law enforcement.

But none of that fully explains why U.S. police departments, on average, in 2022 solved only 37 percent of violent crimes, just over half of murders and nonnegligent manslaughters, and only 12 percent of property crimes, according to FBI statistics.

In Washington, D.C., as of Nov. 13, the police have solved only 75 of the 244 homicides committed this year, according to an Associated Press report.

In Oakland, California, the murder solve rate was 36 percent last year, but if you take out the handful of older, “cold” cases that were solved during 2022, the clearance rate in Oakland is just 27%, an analysis by the S.F. Chronicle shows.

Staffing cuts and fewer resources are part of the issue. “Many police departments — especially in cities — are much smaller than they were before the pandemic,” Asher writes. “Low morale and extreme stresses in the departments have led to high levels of resignations among older and more experienced officers and significantly fewer recruits to replace them.

“Fewer officers available to respond to the scene of a crime means fewer clues, fewer witnesses, and fewer tips for detectives to go on. It also means significantly longer response times, leaving clues to grow stale and witnesses to disappear before officers arrive.”

Polling from Gallup shows that public support for the police has fallen significantly over the past few years. This year only 43 percent of people said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the police — a 10 percentage point drop from 2019.

Eroding Trust Has Spiraling Effect

“That whole process can kind of spiral down, where the community doesn’t trust the police that much anymore or there’s a lack of faith,” Christopher Herrmann, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former crime analyst supervisor with the New York Police Department, told the Associated Press.

There’s much less cooperation between the community and the police. And once the police see a lack of cooperation from the community, some of them will kind of throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘Why should we care when no one in the community wants to help?’”

Asher puts the situation this way: “An unsolved crime cuts twice: It erodes people’s trust in law enforcement and could encourage others to commit similar offenses. It should be in the interest of all Americans for as many crimes as possible — especially heinous violent crimes — to be solved.”

Author: Richard Pretorius

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