University research finds connection between 'defund the police' push and violent crime spike

There have been an estimated 710 more homicides this year than initially expected

Research by a Law Professor shows that there is a connection between scrutiny of police and a spike in crime rates this Summer.

The recent spike in homicide rates is connected to fallout from riots and the type of overbearing scrutiny of police seen on American college campuses and nationwide, according to research by a Utah law professor.  

In his paper, “Explaining the Recent Homicide Spikes in U.S. Cities: The ‘Minneapolis Effect’ and the Decline in Proactive Policing” University of Utah Law Professor Paul Cassell concludes that an increase in homicides in major cities is connected with this summer’s brutal riots and overwhelming public scrutiny of police.

“My paper develops, at length, the argument the de-policing is the trigger for the recent homicide spikes,” Cassell told Campus Reform. 

According to the paper, there have been an estimated 710 additional homicides in 2020 than projected.  In addition, an estimated  2,800 additional people were victims of shootings.  Some of the cities that have seen particularly devastating rioting and political organization to defund policing have seen profound increases.  Among them, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, and Philadelphia saw particularly severe increases in murder rates this Summer.

Minneapolis, which was the epicenter of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and experienced days of destruction and chaos after the death of George Floyd, was especially hard hit.  As of August 1st, the city experienced 41 homicides--a 95% increase from 2019.

In late June, the Minneapolis City Council voted to defund its police department and replace it with a combination of social workers and very limited police interventions. Recently, some members of the Council have voiced regret about the now-unpopular decision.  They claimed that they never really intended to “defund” the police despite voting to do so, the New York Post reported.

[RELATED: Temple University reallocates police funding to ‘social justice programs’]

Also among the cities Cassell studied, Philadelphia canceled significant amounts of police funding.  However, de-policing comes in many forms and occurs for many reasons.  Cassell suggests that extreme negative public attitudes toward police can lower their morale and lead departments to shy away from proactive law enforcement.

“The declining police metrics seem to reflect department-wide decisions. And a decline in police morale is also evident in indicators other than just policing metrics,” writes Cassell. “For example, police officers across the country are making the decision to resign or retire early.208 In addition, applications to become police officers are declining.”

Some have blamed this increase in homicides on the Coronavirus Pandemic which began in late March, and associated public health measures.   However, this is most likely not the case.  Evidence suggests that from the implementation of lockdown measures in March to May, when protests swept the country, there was a decrease in violent crime in major cities.

“If social distancing and related phenomenon associated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic were responsible for the homicide spikes, then the spikes would be expected to develop around mid-March,” points out Cassell. “And yet the data show the spikes appear about ten weeks later, beginning around the last week of May.”

Cassell has named the phenomenon of increasing homicide rates occurring in the wake of 2020’s protests against police the “Minneapolis Effect.”  This term echoes the “Ferguson Effect,” which is often used to refer to the increase in violent crime in major American cities after protests over the death of Michael Brown in 2014 turned violent and spread nationwide.

[RELATED: As crime soars, UChicago students call to disband campus police]

This Spring, research by Tanaya Devi and Roland Fryer of Harvard University found that the Ferguson Effect was mostly due to de-policing and pressure on law enforcement after the 2014 riots.  Devi and Fryer’s paper demonstrated that de-policing after riots increased crime: “all investigations that were preceded by ‘viral’ incidents of deadly force have led to a large and statistically significant increase in homicides and total crime.” This research demonstrated that few other explanations of this phenomenon were likely.