Reason Roundup

Don't Believe the People Blaming Crime on Defunded Police

Plus: the pandemic baby bump, how government is killing starter homes, and more...


Police budgets are up in cities across America. It's a tale as old as time that politicians benefit by whipping up crime panic and accusing opponents of being soft on the issue. And so it goes in 2022, with candidates—mostly conservatives, but also some Democrats trying to position themselves as centrists—insisting that 1) crime is rising, and 2) it's the fault of criminal justice reform policies. Both claims are highly suspect (see this recent Roundup for more on crime data), and especially so the flavor of blame that suggests this mythical crime wave is the fault of liberals and progressives "defunding the police."

Yes, "defund the police" became a popular rallying cry in the summer of 2020, as people all over the country took to the streets to protest police brutality. And, yes, it can still be heard as a refrain in some activist circles. But even as some mainstream politicians briefly flirted with this rhetoric, it's never been a serious policy proposal, nor one that many (if any) leaders—local or national—have acted upon.

President Joe Biden—long a friend of the police and proponent of dubious crime panic policies—recently proposed in his Safer America Plan some $37 billion in federal funding for cops. "President Biden's fiscal year 2023 budget requests a fully paid-for new investment of approximately $35 billion to support law enforcement and crime prevention – in addition to the President's $2 billion discretionary request for these same programs," noted the White House.

Cities and counties, too, have been raising police budgets. ABC News "examined the budgets of more than 100 cities and counties and found 83% are spending at least 2% more on police in 2022 than in 2019."

The ABC News analysis included most major big and mid-size metropolitan areas, including Albuquerque, Anchorage, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boise, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Honolulu, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Oakland, Omaha, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Wichita, among others.

Of the 109 areas examined, 49 raised law enforcement funding by more than 10 percent and 91 raised it by at least 2 percent. Only 8 places cut funding to law enforcement by more than 2 percent.

Nonetheless, politicians, pundits, and police persist in spreading the politically convenient myth that law enforcement agencies have been massively defunded. "Despite what the public record shows, an analysis of broadcast transcripts reveals that candidates, law enforcement leaders and television hosts discussed the impact of 'defunding the police' more than 10,000 times the last two years and the mentions aren't subsiding this campaign season," ABC found.

Take scandal plagued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. He claims that crime is up because "defunding has consequences." Meanwhile, "his agency's budget is up more than $250 million," according to ABC. In Los Angeles County, the police budget was up to $3.6 billion in 2021–2022, from $3.3 billion in 2018–2019.

"Even if the cuts were real, the premise that lower police spending leads to increased crime (or the other way around) is counter to decades of evidence, according to public data and criminal justice experts," ABC points out:

An ABC OTV analysis of state and local police funding and violent crime data in the U.S. overall between 1985 and 2020 found no relationship between year-to-year police spending and crime rates. (An analysis by the Washington Post found similar results from 1960 to 2018.)

Further analysis of Los Angeles County's own crime data show violent crime numbers don't move up or down with any relationship to money spent on law enforcement or the number of officers on patrol.

But lately, budget cuts are resolutely not the case in many places.

In Chicago, the police budget was $1.9 billion in 2021–2022, up from $1.7 billion in 2018–2019. In Phoenix, the police budget in 2021–2022 was $786.7 million, up from $687.8 million in 2018–2019. And even in places where there have been some drops, the budgets are still massive. For instance, in New York City, the 2021–2022 budget was down to $5.4 billion from $5.6 billion in 2018–2019. This year's budget is still up from $5.2 billion in 2020–2021.


Baby bump seems to be continuing. A National Bureau of Economic Research paper from Martha J. Bailey, Janet Currie & Hannes Schwandt drills down into the data on the COVID-19 baby bump. Here's the abstract:

We use restricted natality microdata covering the universe of U.S. births for 2015-2021 and California births from 2015 to August 2022 to examine the childbearing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although fertility rates declined in 2020, these declines appear to reflect reductions in travel to the U.S. Childbearing in the U.S. among foreign-born mothers declined immediately after lockdowns began—nine months too soon to reflect the pandemic's effects on conceptions. We also find that the COVID pandemic resulted in a small "baby bump" among U.S.-born mothers. The 2021 baby bump is the first major reversal in declining U.S. fertility rates since 2007 and was most pronounced for first births and women under age 25, which suggests the pandemic led some women to start their families earlier. Above age 25, the baby bump was also pronounced for women ages 30-34 and women with a college education, who were more likely to benefit from working from home. The data for California track the U.S. data closely and suggest that U.S. births remained elevated through the third quarter of 2022.


What happened to the starter home? It's been squeezed out of existence in large part by government regulations and policies, suggests Emily Badger in The New York Times. American builders used to construct "starter homes"—small-ish but enough for a family, "no-frills homes that would give a family new to the country or a young couple with student debt a foothold to build equity"—that would sell for around $100,000 or so in the 1990s and $200,000 in today's dollars. But "the affordable end of the market has been squeezed from every side. Land costs have risen steeply in booming parts of the country. Construction materials and government fees have become more expensive. And communities nationwide are far more prescriptive today than decades ago about what housing should look like and how big it must be. Some ban vinyl siding. Others require two-car garages. Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today."

"Nationwide, the small detached house has all but vanished from new construction," notes Badger. "Only about 8 percent of new single-family homes today are 1,400 square feet or less. In the 1940s, according to CoreLogic, nearly 70 percent of new houses were that small."

The price of land is one problem. Permits and fees from local governments are another.

In Portland, Ore., a lot may cost $100,000. Permits add $40,000-$50,000. Removing a fir tree 36 inches in diameter costs another $16,000 in fees.

"You've basically regulated me out of anything remotely on the affordable side," said Justin Wood, the owner of Fish Construction NW.>>

The issue comes at a time when smaller homes are in high demand.

Badger followed up the above piece (published in late September) with another on starter homes, asking "If America needs starter homes, why are perfectly good ones being torn down?"


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