Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday, 25 June 2020


Gun crime soars as police retreat in America’s cities

Despite many forms of violent crime in Chicago falling, shootings have risen by a third this year
Despite many forms of violent crime in Chicago falling, shootings have risen by a third this year
Gun crime has soared in American cities as beleaguered officers retreat from the streets amid protests against police brutality convulsing the country.
New York’s police department reported 125 shootings in the first three weeks of the month, the worst start to June since 1996. Yesterday a police union said that morale was at an “all time low” and that the city risked slipping back into an era of high crime.
In Chicago, after a weekend in which 104 people were shot and 14 of them killed, a text message was said to have been sent to officers encouraging them to call in sick and to limit the arrests they made while on duty. “Just answer your calls and back each other up,” the message said, according to CBS Chicago. “Other than that, zero.”
Shootings in Chicago have risen by a third this year and other cities have reported similar rises, even as other forms of violent crime have dropped. A similar police slowdown was reported in Atlanta after an officer was charged with the murder of Rayshard Brooks, 27, who was shot while fleeing arrest. Shootings have risen in the city by 10 per cent this year.
In Detroit there were 18 shootings last weekend and four people died — a rise in gun violence the police chief attributed in part to the stresses of lockdown. James Craig said: “What we’re seeing manifesting is these argument-based, senseless shootings among people who are acquainted, who are attending block parties. It’s got to stop.”
The murder rate in America was rising before the lockdown, according to a paper by Arnold Ventures, which studies criminal justice. Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St Louis, said that the study looked at 64 cities over three years. “In April and May we saw sizeable decreases compared to the previous three-year average,” he said.
Yet the figures suggested the decrease tailed off last month and Dr Rosenfeld anticipated “increases over the next few months, both because of the reopening” and because budgets for the police, healthcare and social services “have been wrecked by the economic recession”.
He added that relief for unemployed workers would end in July. “That can make some folks desperate,” he said. “The most critical factor is the social unrest we have seen in the US and elsewhere with the killing of George Floyd and other police brutality incidents.”
He said a similar rise in crime had followed police killings and protests in Ferguson, Missouri and in Chicago and Baltimore. “That coincided with a rise in homicides. There is every reason [to think] we will see the same thing.”
Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, a public safety charity, said: “What really worries me is we don’t even have the high crime season yet, which is the summer. So I expect this to continue.”
In New York city “this rise in crime is occurring at the very moment that many people, understandably, are calling for radical changes in policing including reducing police budgets by over a billion dollars,” he said. “I don’t see a method to do that without cutting head count. [But] the last thing we want right now is to cut head count.”
There were 18 shootings in New York last weekend. One of the victims was Kenneth Singleton, 35, who was washing his car when a gunman shot him in the back of the head. Changes to the bail law which limited the cases in which judges could hold suspects, as well as the release of thousands of prisoners during the pandemic, have been blamed for the increase in shootings.
Michael Lipetri, chief of crime control strategies at the NYPD told TheNew York Times that 17 per cent of shootings involved people on parole or probation.
Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of criminology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that the NYPD had just disbanded the anti-crime units of plain-clothes officers whose job was to remove illegal guns from the streets. “The New York police commissioner abandoned the gun hunting units because he can’t defend them if they get into a shooting, and they definitely will get into shootings,” he said.
Luke Jones: After coronavirus, will British theatre survive?
This week Manveen and David take a break as Times Radio presenters host the podcast, ahead of the launch of the station on the 29th June.For Luke Jones, going to the theatre has been an almost weekly part of his life for as long as he can remember. That is, until the coronavirus lockdown began, and the theatres closed for public safety. Now, the theatre sector is grappling with the question of how and when they'll be able to reopen.
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Disbanding the units last week, the New York City Police Commissioner, Dermot Shea, said the anti-crime units were involved in a “disproportionate” percentage of shootings and complaints, even as they did “what was asked of them.”
Professor O’Donnell says that there was a failure to “explain the work they do” in the face of scandals. “There was one precinct in Brooklyn where for three months, they took 100 guns off the street,” he said.
He said the NYPD had a far better record than other cities but morale had fallen. “Nobody wants to be on the job, a huge number of people express the desire to leave, recruiting has collapsed. Everything is risk avoidance: you only handle things you absolutely can’t avoid handling.”
Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said criminals were not afraid to carry guns. He worked in an anti-crime unit in the 1980s and said: “We went looking for people committing violent crimes. You got to play cops and robbers every day.” He blamed Bill de Blasio, the mayor, for failing to support police during protests. “We are a nation of laws and we were not allowed to enforce the laws.”

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