Why some police officials believe crime is on the rise in US cities

The "anti-police rhetoric" has destroyed morale, an NYPD chief says.

June 24, 2020, 5:05 AM

The Police Executive Research Forum surveyed four cities across the country and found that crime rates in Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York and Las Vegas have spiked since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the reopening the country -- a fact that law enforcement leaders feared.

"Jurisdictions released many offenders in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in jails. And courts in many places have been closed. That has led to a feeling among offenders that they can commit crimes with impunity. In addition, police in some cities are less proactive in their enforcement, in order to avoid interactions with the public that could spread the virus," the report said.

The group explained that officers who would be assigned to investigating and tracking violent crimes have instead been assigned to monitor the protests.

In New York, NYPD Chief of Department Terrance Monahan told PERF that "in the last week, we've had 53 shooting incidents and 72 people shot. We have to go back to the week of July 4th in 2012 for a week like that."

Monahan said that 20% of those released from Rikers Island due to COVID-19 have been rearrested. The NYPD can't make any connections between the releases and the rise in violent crime, "but we're seeing a large uptick of parolees involved on either end of the gun, as either the shooter or the victim," he added.

"There's a feeling that you're not going to go to jail," Monahan said to PERF.

PHOTO: A police officer in stock photo.
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In Indianapolis, Assistant Chief Chris Bailey said that Indy is in the midst of a six-year homicide increase.

"At the height of our COVID response, the crime numbers kind of leveled out, but in May, it blew up. As far as I can tell, there's only one other time that we've had 25 homicides in one month: in November 2017. Going back to the inception of our combined police department in 2007, we haven't seen any numbers like that. This month we're right back where we were last year," he said.

He said that nonfatal shootings in the city have steadily been rising.

"We've had 217 incidents so far this year, compared to 200 last year, and in 2016 we were in the 180s, so gun crime has been continuously rising in our city," he explained, adding that the increase has "a lot" to do with drug trafficking.

In Milwaukee, the same can be said.

"Our homicides are way up. We haven't seen these numbers since 1991. We have 86 homicides this year, compared to 37 to this point last year -- so we have a 132% increase. We've had an increase since the fall, but it has increased immensely over the last couple of months," Milwaukee Inspector Leslie Thiele told PERF. "We had a couple mass shootings, but a lot of shootings tend to be related to drugs or silly disputes. We've had a big increase in domestic violence shootings."

Terrence Gordon, another Milwaukee inspector, told PERF that there's been a big spike in "intimate partner violence."

Las Vegas Metropolitan Captain James LaRochelle told PERF that the department saw an increase in the Nevada city starting late last month.

"Three weeks ago, we had a really bad week, with 11 murders in 10 days. Some of those were domestic violence-related. Our gang murders are about 22% of our homicides, and our rate of solving those is a bit lower. At one point in April we had solved 100% of our murders, and now we're at about 80%," LaRochelle told the outlet. "We're still slightly down in violent crime year-to-date, but lately we are seeing an uptick and it is a concern."

Spirits are low, the departments say.

In New York, Monahan said the "anti-police rhetoric" has destroyed morale.

"Our cops are unsure what to do. They think there's no reason to do any quality-of-life enforcement," Monahan told PERF.

In Milwaukee, both inspectors PERF talked to agreed that optimism in the country is down.

"Morale is terrible. But people don't have low morale because of something the chief did, it's because they're afraid that nobody in this community is going to stand up for them," Gordon said. "In 25 years, I've never seen it like this. I never thought that I'd see the day where a Milwaukee police officer would withdraw from the community they swore to serve. But I can see it beginning to happen right now, and it's just terrible, because on the other side of all these crimes are victims."

In some cases, officers are putting in their papers and retiring.

"The attrition rate is very high the last couple years, and it's going to continue this year. We have had a lot of people come forward and basically say they've had enough, and retire. We've had younger officers who have been on for a year to 10 years, and have resigned because they're not willing to put their families through any news stories that would come out if they were involved in anything," Thiele said.

The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Union said in a press release that 71% of the members it surveyed are considering leaving MPD. Of those, almost 40% are planning to leave law enforcement entirely.