(The Center Square) – Across the U.S., police arrests have plummeted over the past 10 years.
Los Angeles arrests have decreased from 101,161 to 38,833 from 2012 to 2022, a 61% drop, according to FBI data.
Other cities have seen declines in arrests over that 10-year span: Chicago and Minneapolis each had an 82% drop; Philadelphia had a 73% drop; Houston had a 67% decline; Seattle saw a 37% decline; and Detroit had a 33% drop.
Police advocate agencies said the reasons are complicated, but point to issues such as prosecutors deferring prosecution and frustrating officers, difficulty in hiring new officers leading to a shortage, and risks of social media “canceling.”
“Morale is at an all-time low to which I have never seen before and unfortunately this leads to a lack of desire to be pro-active for fear of reprisal,” Mike Willis, national training and programs director for the United States Deputy Sheriff’s Association, said in an email to The Center Square.
It is not clear what, if any, impact the drop in arrests is having on crime. FBI data on national crime is inconclusive because many agencies, such as the city of New York Police, did not report data to the federal agency.
Daniela Gilbert, director of Redefining Public Safety at the Vera Institute of Justice, said its research on arrests from 1980 to 2016 found that more than 80% were for non-serious low-level offenses, such as drug abuse and disorderly conduct. Serious violent offenses accounted for fewer than 5% of arrests.
“There is an increasing recognition that arrests cause harm,” Gilbert told The Center Square. “Arrests alone don’t produce public safety. The volume of arrests as an absolute number shouldn’t be considered a proxy for public safety.”
Gilbert said cities should focus more on law enforcement ability to solve crime, such as increasing clearance rates and prioritizing violent crimes.
“I would be more concerned about low clearance rates than declines in arrests,” Gilbert said.
Willis said changes in laws have played a role in the reduction of arrests.
“Another reason, especially in some of the larger cities you cited, is many crimes (shoplifting, criminal damage, etc.) are no longer arrestable crimes,” Willis said. “And of the ones which are still arrestable offenses LE [law enforcement] are not allowed to pursue, even on foot, a fleeing suspect. The only people who take note of policies such as this are the criminal element.”
National Police Association spokeswoman Betsy Brantner Smith, a retired sergeant, said police officers have been “demonized and vilified” after high-profile incidents, such as the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Smith called it a “war on cops” and said many officers have left the profession over it.
“American law enforcement officers began retiring and resigning in record numbers,” Smith said in an email to The Center Square. “Now nine out of every ten police departments are short-staffed. Police officers are increasingly fearful of being disciplined, fired or even wrongly prosecuted just for doing their jobs.
“Combine all of this with policies like ‘no cash bail’ and no pre-trial incarceration, lax prosecution of serious crimes, an open southern border and nearly 75 far-left [George] Soros-installed prosecutors refusing to do their jobs in some of the highest crime counties in the nation, it’s no wonder we have less police officers making less arrests,” Smith said.
Jonathan Thompson, executive director of the National Sheriff’s Association, said the reduction in arrests could be linked to what he called “the Ferguson effect.” The phrase has a Wikipedia entry that describes it this way: “The Ferguson effect is an increase in violent crime rates in a community caused by reduced proactive policing due to the community’s distrust and hostility towards police.”
“It is complicated,” Thompson said in an email to The Center Square. “We know the overall general causes are the Ferguson effect, liberal prosecutors deferring prosecution is openly frustrating agencies’ personnel, lack of manpower on the street and in jails, risks of social media ‘canceling,’ etc.”