Opinion

Refunding police is necessary but not sufficient to stop crime spiral

For years, radical scholars and activists had been pushing to defund or even abolish police departments, but most liberal cities had deep enough reservoirs of sanity to keep them at bay. ­Until last year, that is: George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis gave defunders a huge opening, and they didn’t waste it.

Minneapolis, LA, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, Baltimore and New York City, among others, slashed their police budgets in 2020 under pressure from ­defunders. What followed was one of the deadliest years in the United States since the mid-1990s, with shootings and homicides spiking — to new, all-time highs in some jurisdictions.

Since then, many cities, from Oakland to Baltimore, have moved to restore or increase police funding. Though it’s a necessary step, refunding the police, without more, is insufficient.

You see, police budgets weren’t the only things that changed in 2020. As a recent New York Times analysis found, more than “30 states have passed more than 140 new police oversight and reform laws,” since last year. The explicit aim of many of these laws was to raise the transaction costs of policing.

Examples include laws placing geographical restrictions on police hiring, criminalizing grappling techniques like neck restraints and eliminating qualified immunity. And the “reformers” are still at it: In just the last several weeks, the Chicago Police Department imposed new restrictions on the ability of officers to engage in foot pursuits, while Washington state lawmakers moved to prohibit police from using force to effect a stop based on reasonable suspicion, such that whether an officer can stop and frisk a suspect will now depend on that suspect’s willingness to comply.

And some of the progressive changes — from DAs who refuse to prosecute a vast range of crimes, to decriminalization of many forms of disorderly conduct, to bail and discovery “reform” — predated the Floyd incident.

Refunding police alone won’t reverse these changes. Cops’ effectiveness depends in part on other factors. Among them are the legal structures impacting police activity.

How much good police can do will also depend in part on the willingness of the broader criminal-justice system to do its part to incapacitate the repeat, high-rate offenders. Police can bring them in, but that doesn’t do much good if they end up right back on the street.

Consider: On July 28, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea applauded two transit officers for quickly apprehending a robbery suspect. It turns out, the man was out on parole despite having more than two dozen prior arrests. Last month, The Post reported on the arrest of 55-year-old Ramon Castro for an alleged hate crime assault in Queens. Per the Post, Castro was out on bail at the time with two open cases, despite a whopping 90 prior arrests.

A couple weeks before that, a warrant was issued in Houston for the arrest of Zacchaeus Gaston, charged with the shooting death of a woman whose 1-year-old son was also wounded in the attack. According to local news reports, Gaston was out on seven bonds at the time of the shooting, during which he was allegedly wearing an ankle monitor.

Eric Adams’ victory in the New York City Democratic primary has given Gothamites hope that the tide may be turning in a more sensible direction. But voters also handed victories to Manhattan DA candidate Alvin Bragg, who ran on a “reform” platform that included a commitment to non-prosecution in many cases and an explicit disinclination toward incarceration. Voters also picked Queens City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán, who ran on “disbanding the NYPD.” Both Bragg and Cabán have many counterparts in cities across the country who are pushing the same radical approach. And in many of those cities, recent elections and legislative reforms have created conditions more favorable to lawbreakers.

We must not commit the error of viewing the issue of policing in isolation. Much like a quarterback with great wide receivers but a porous offensive line, the police can only do so much with prosecutors and lawmakers working at cross-purposes. Time and again, public spending on police has proved to be effective at reducing crime. But if people like Bragg and Cabán get their way, expect that to be less true as time passes. Here’s hoping the silent majority prevails.

Rafael A. Mangual is a senior fellow and head of research for the Manhattan Institute’s Policing and Public Safety Initiative, and a contributing editor of City Journal.

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