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Increase in killings is fodder for GOP

by DAVID KLEPPER AND GARY FIELDS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | June 11, 2021 at 4:25 a.m.
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo a protester holds a sign that reads "Defund Police" during a rally for the late George Floyd outside Barclays Center in New York. Some police organizations and Republican politicians are blaming Democrats and last year's defund the police effort for a troubling rise in homicides in many cities across the country. The increases are real, and some cities did make modest cuts to police spending. But the claims by Republicans overlook the fact homicides are up in many cities, including ones that increased police spending or have Republican mayors. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

WASHINGTON -- Some police organizations and Republican politicians are blaming Democrats and last year's defund-the-police effort for a troubling rise in slayings in many cities across the country.

The increases they cite are real and several big cities did make cuts to police spending. But the reductions were mostly modest, and the same big increases in homicide rates are being seen nationwide -- even in cities that increased police spending. At the same time, the rates for burglaries, drug offenses and many other types of crime are down in many cities across the country.

The effort to blame Democrats for crime may offer a preview of Republicans' strategy for upcoming elections -- a new twist on an old "law and order" argument from the party's past, harking back to President Richard Nixon.

"2020 was just a crazy complicated year where lots of things happened, and there are lots of potential explanations for why we saw these big changes," said David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, who tracks crime rates and is studying the impact of the pandemic.

The bottom line? "It's complicated."

Late last month, the National Fraternal Order of Police posted a graphic on social media showing big increases in the homicide rate in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore. -- all cities currently led by Democrats.

The numbers in it were alarming. Homicides in Chicago, up by 22% through late May compared with the same period last year. In Minneapolis, homicides were up by 56%; in Portland, 800%.

Top Republicans have taken up the claim, too.

"Look at what's happening where they're defunding the police," former President Donald Trump said Saturday at the North Carolina GOP convention. "The crime rate is going up by 50, 60, 100%, 131% in one city."

Killings have been on the rise since 2020, but the numbers don't tell the whole story about reductions in police spending or a troubling increase in homicides being seen.

Last year in Minneapolis, city officials shifted $8 million -- less than 5% of the police budget -- to programs focused on community mental health and violence prevention. In February, they approved $6.4 million to hire new police officers after an unprecedented number retired or went on extended medical leave in the wake of George Floyd's killing.

Yet, homicide rates also are increasing in cities that didn't cut spending.

In Houston, a city led by a Democratic mayor, killings have increased, but so has funding for police. Nashville, Tenn., also led by a Democratic mayor, increased the police budget but has seen homicides spike 50% so far this year over last.

Tulsa and Fresno, Calif., also have seen more killings so far in 2021. Both cities have Republican mayors.

While cities are reporting jumps in their homicide rate, there's been no similar increase in burglaries, robberies or drug offenses. That's not what you'd expect if calls to defund the police were leading to a rash of crime, Abrams said.

So why are killings up?

Economic losses and personal stress brought on by the pandemic are one suggestion.

Covid-19 also disrupted in-person education and many community programs designed to quell violence. It put a strain on police departments, hospitals, courts and other institutions that deal with the impact of crime.

Other possibilities include rising gun ownership and the protests over police killings that could have emboldened criminals. Then there are the host of factors that contribute to localized violence.

Small changes to a police budget or the party affiliation of a particular mayor, aren't likely to play a big role, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor at Boston's Northeastern University. Some violence fluctuations are part of long-standing problems.

Information for this article was contributed by Stefanie Dazio, Don Babwin and Terrence Fraser of The Associated Press.

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