On Monday, the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal about a “new national crime wave” sparked by the recent pressure on police reform:
Since last summer, the airwaves have been dominated by suggestions that the police are the biggest threat facing young black males today. A handful of highly publicized deaths of unarmed black men, often following a resisted arrest—including Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., in July 2014, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 and Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month—have led to riots, violent protests and attacks on the police.
MacDonald cites a whole lot of statistics to point to her thesis:
In Baltimore, the most pressing question every morning is how many people were shot the previous night. Gun violence is up more than 60% compared with this time last year, according to Baltimore police, with 32 shootings over Memorial Day weekend. May has been the most violent month the city has seen in 15 years.
In Milwaukee, homicides were up 180% by May 17 over the same period the previous year. Through April, shootings in St. Louis were up 39%, robberies 43%, and homicides 25%. “Crime is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said St. Louis Alderman Joe Vacarro at a May 7 City Hall hearing.
Murders in Atlanta were up 32% as of mid-May. Shootings in Chicago had increased 24% and homicides 17%. Shootings and other violent felonies in Los Angeles had spiked by 25%; in New York, murder was up nearly 13%, and gun violence 7%.
While the data paints a sensational picture, the reality is much more nuanced. The Crime Prevention Research Center compared the 2014 and 2015 murder rate from January to May in major US cities. Their conclusion? “The bottom line is that across the largest 15 cities in the US the murder rate has fallen by 43 from 871 to 828, a 5% drop.”
In short, MacDonald’s article is a classic case of cherry picking data. While there’s no doubt that crime is up in cities like Baltimore, it is also down in others like Los Angeles. The truth is that it’s too early to judge the consequences of the recent pressure on police reform. It won’t be years until we understand the full effects of recent reforms such as that for surplus military gear announced last week.
Plus, there are many other statistics by which to judge the success of police reforms than just the murder rate. Personally, I would consider police reforms to be successful if the number of shootings of unarmed suspects, botched SWAT raids, and arrests for nonviolent crimes like drug possession all decrease — along with a decrease in the crime rate.