Homicides are up, but GOP misleads with claims about blame

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)
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) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – “SKYROCKETING MURDER RATES,” claimed the National Fraternal Order of Police. “An explosion of violent crime," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Democrat-run cities across the country who cut funding for police have seen increases in crime,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

On social media and in political speeches, some Republicans and pro-police groups say last year's calls to slash spending on law enforcement have led to a dramatic rise in killings in cities overseen by Democrats.

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 homicides 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, harkening back to President Richard Nixon.

Just as it did half a century ago, the argument ignores the complicated reasons for fluctuations in crime rates — a list that today includes the upheaval wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd by police.

“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, Oregon — all cities currently led by Democrats. “The leadership in all of these cities turned the keys over to the ‘Defund the Police’ mob,” the post read.

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%.