Guest Editorials, Opinion

Addressing crime can’t ignore need for more police

Misguided calls from the left to “defund” the police threaten to put Democrats in the position of the Nixon era, when they were successfully painted as soft on crime. The party should respond with a national crime bill that lays out in detail a pragmatic approach that is both forward-looking in addressing the root causes of crime but also aggressively protects victims in the here-and-now.

Crime rates in general haven’t risen markedly, but homicide rates across America have skyrocketed. The pandemic is almost certainly a factor. With most of the country sheltered-in for most of last year, all forms of domestic strife certainly have risen. The economic disruption could be a factor. Reduced policing in the wake of last year’s protests of police brutality might have played a role. And the ever-loosening restrictions on firearms in places like Missouri certainly haven’t helped.

The criminal justice reform movement ascendant on the left is right about a lot: It’s right to view crime as a societal ill with societal causes, most prominently, poverty. It’s no coincidence — now in America, or throughout the history of civilization everywhere — that violent crime is worst in areas where poverty is most acute, regardless of the skin color of those living in poverty.

Those advocates are right that systemic racism in police culture is part of the problem, breeding distrust in Black communities that makes community-based crime-fighting more difficult. They’re right that offering educational and employment opportunities to young people in troubled areas would yield far better results against crime in the long run than merely the threat of imprisonment.

That said, the scourge of violence against innocent citizens today isn’t some right-wing bogeyman. It’s real, as residents in the most crime-ridden areas of St. Louis can attest. Progressives who want to shrug off the terrors that these victims face as some temporary problem that social programs will eventually alleviate should remember that these are families trying to raise their kids in peace right now — and that most of these victims are low-income and Black.

A rational approach to crime shouldn’t spend less money addressing it; it should spend more: Yes, more on social and jobs programs, education and outreach, counseling for at-risk youth and violence interrupters. But also more on policing, on modern training techniques, body cameras and other technology — and on additional warm bodies patrolling the streets, which has consistently been shown to be the single most effective way to prevent crime in the moment.

Nixon’s success at demonizing Democrats on crime didn’t lead to safer streets. Now, as then, Republicans aren’t coming to the table with real ideas on crime, just tired old tough talk. Democrats can and should offer more — and they shouldn’t let their party be defined by those on the far left whose approach, however well-intentioned, would most victimize those they claim to care most about.

This editorial  first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.