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EDITORIAL: Amid ‘defund’ rhetoric, murders soared

Defunding the police appears to be a good way to get people killed.

Last month, the FBI released its 2020 crime statistics. The increase in homicides jumped off the page. In 2020, there were an estimated 21,570 homicides in the United States, a whopping 30 percent increase from 2019. The numbers are estimates because only around 85 percent of agencies submitted information in 2020.

If that seems like a dramatic increase, you’re right. According to Jeff Asher, a data consultant interviewed by NPR, that’s the largest year-over-year increase since national record keeping began in the 1960s. Per capita homicides remain below their peak in the 1990s.

Clark County followed the pattern. Homicide investigations were up 33 percent in 2020, the Review-Journal reported in January.

Raw statistics can’t portray the devastation caused the callous taking of life. Victims leave behind devastated friends and family, too.

Rampant homicides can make city streets feel like war zones. Parents are afraid to let their children play outside, let alone walk to the park.

While many factors influence homicide rates — the “root cause” of crime are many and remain hotly debated — efforts to “defund the police” empower criminals and don’t help drive down violent crime rates. After the horrific killing of George Floyd, protests erupted around the country. Many called for reducing the presence of law enforcement, through budget cuts or policy changes.

In many places, they succeeded. More than 20 large cities cut police budgets. Collectively, the 50 largest cities in the country lowered police budgets by more than 5 percent. The “Ferguson effect,” a description of when police officers do less proactive policing after public backlash, may have further reduced the presence of police.

The police pullback had devastating consequences for African Americans in particular. FBI statistics show that more than half of homicide victims are Black. That means these devastating losses were most prominently felt in many African American neighborhoods. Is it any wonder that the “defund the police” movement has failed to garner significant popular support among Blacks?

At least in some cities, common sense is prevailing. Portland, Oregon, is on pace to have a record number of murders in 2021. A recent survey showed two-thirds of its residents support hiring more police officers. In a separate question, just 16 percent said they supported defunding the police.

Police need accountability, of that there’s no doubt. But, as the skyrocketing murder rate shows, the public also needs the police.

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