by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The role of policing in the United States is being hotly debated, with many liberal activists calling for reductions in police funding. Although advocates of defunding the police have failed to win over the general public, the political climate in certain Democratic-leaning cities, combined with the budget constraints imposed by COVID-19, has already succeeded in thinning the ranks of police departments in some parts of the country.
In Minneapolis, the epicenter of last year’s protests and riots, over 100 officers left the ranks of the city’s police, “more than double the number in a typical year.” In Seattle, another hub of protests last year, the level of police attrition is “unprecedented.”
The long-term impact of police reductions in these specific cities is at this point unclear. However, a study published in December in Justice Evaluation Journal offers some evidence that rapidly depleting the ranks of a city’s police force can in some circumstances have deadly consequences.
Eric Piza, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY, and Vijay Chillar, of the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, looked at police layoffs against the backdrop of the Great Recession of 2008–09. …
… Whatever the reason, the study clearly shows a relationship between layoffs and a spike in crime in Newark, one that did not take place in similarly situated Jersey City.
Piza advised caution on drawing larger lessons from the study and suggested that layoffs don’t necessarily have to lead to higher crime levels if they are done in a more strategic way that allows departments to continue crime-control practices that work. …
… But it’s unclear whether the cuts we’re seeing across the country are being done in a judicious environment or whether they’re a knee-jerk response to the political moment that is taking place around the country.