With violent crime rising, lawmakers need to step up

A police detective dusts a car for fingerprints at a Lompoc crime scene. (Photo: Bill Morson, via Shutterstock)

Our nation is feeling the devastating impacts of rising crime and violence. The headlines are alarming: “Murders in U.S. Cities Were Near Record Highs in 2021,” “‘It’s just crazy’: 12 major cities hit all-time homicide records,” “Fueled by gun violence, cities across the US are breaking all-time homicide records this year“. We clearly have a serious problem to address.

So, how did we get here? How do we fix this problem?

In response to the 2008 recession, public safety budgets were among the first to be cut and departments across the country have yet to recover the funding they need to recruit, hire, train and retain the right officers for the job.

In 2020, murders in the U.S. rose nearly 30% from the prior year to 21,570 – the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the FBI.

These challenges were compounded by intense anti-police backlash following the death of George Floyd in 2020. This was a tipping point and should have been a wake-up call to increase recruitment and education standards, increase funding for law enforcement training, and increase the resources available to respond to critical situations.

Yet, the response was a movement to defund the police.

This rhetoric made its way into our communities, and now our neighbors, friends, and families are feeling the devastating impacts.

Twenty-three-month-old Jasper Wu was sleeping in his car seat when he was struck by a stray bullet from suspected gang fire on the interstate in Oakland. A 7-year-old girl was killed in a McDonald’s drive-through in Chicago after being shot multiple times by someone authorities said had been let out of jail on electronic monitoring.

In Portland, departments struggle to hire cops as people are reluctant to join the once celebrated and honored profession due to the increased cacophony of voices that delegitimize policing and harm those who wear the uniform. In 2020, murders in the U.S. rose nearly 30% from the prior year to 21,570 – the largest single-year increase ever recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While elected officials have largely stopped short of defunding local police departments, the damage has been done. The mere adoption and widespread proliferation of defund rhetoric – especially when used by elected officials – is enough to alienate peace officers from those they serve.

This rhetoric has a devastating effect on our ability to recruit, hire, train, and retain the right officers for the job. Think about it – would you want to become a peace officer in the current environment? And the result?

At the expense of thousands of innocent lives and fear swelling within our communities, our nation and its lawmakers are finally realizing that defunding is not the answer and recognizing the value of increasing resources dedicated to public safety. Community safety is a shared responsibility.

The Justice Department recently awarded $1.6 billion in grants to support programs designed to reduce violent crime. California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a public safety plan to aggressively fight and prevent crime in the state. In Minneapolis, the birthplace of the defund movement, a proposal to replace police with a new department was soundly rejected, and Mayor Jacob Frey rolled out a plan to hire more peace officers and expand partnerships with local agencies. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff reversed course on cuts to police budgets and is working to recruit more officers to bring the city’s force back up to full staffing.

Community leaders, advocates, and constituents are calling on local, state, and federal leaders to address rising crime and it’s time to listen. Politicians who continue to capitalize on anti-police rhetoric for the sake of earning political points are only harming their communities by furthering a divide that can only lead to increased negative public safety outcomes.

Regardless of how anyone may feel about police, if you want to enjoy public life safely, that means ensuring police departments have the resources, staffing, and funding they need to operate effectively – and our lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure communities are safe. Increased presence of well-trained officers on the streets is a deterrent to crime.

We didn’t get here overnight, and it’s going to take several years of reinvestment before we can start seeing improved public safety outcomes in our communities.

It is time for our elected leaders to lead, and that means helping to shift the public narrative away from one that demonizes law enforcement to one focused on mutual respect and appreciation.

It is time to provide the necessary funding and resources to ensure there are officers to respond to and prevent violent crime. It is time to increase hours spent in the classroom to prepare officers for the inherent challenges of modern-day policing.

It is time to step up and it is time to address our nation’s rising crime crisis.

Editor’s Note: Brian R. Marvel is president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), which  represents over 77,000 public safety members in over 930 associations.

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