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In Minneapolis, less policing is bringing more crime

Prediction – Less policing, more crime

Last month, I wrote about research which suggests that Minneapolis is in for a rise in violence. The paper, from economists Tanaya Devi and Roland G. Fryer Jr, provides “the first empirical examination of the impact of federal and state “Pattern-or-Practice” investigations on crime and policing”. They find that:

For investigations that were not preceded by “viral” incidents of deadly force, investigations, on average, led to a statistically significant reduction in homicides and total crime.

This is good news. But there is bad news, especially for Minneapolis:

In stark contrast, 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. We estimate that these investigations caused almost 900 excess homicides and almost 34,000 excess felonies.

Why do we see this?

The leading hypothesis for why these investigations increase homicides and total crime is an abrupt change in the quantity of policing activity. In Chicago, the number of police-civilian interactions decreased by almost 90% in the month after the investigation was announced. In Riverside CA, interactions decreased 54%. In St. Louis, self-initiated police activities declined by 46%. Other theories we test such as changes in community trust or the aggressiveness of consent decrees associated with investigations — all contradict the data in important ways.

Outcome – Less policing, more crime

The retreat by law enforcement predicted by this research seems to be happening in Minneapolis. The Washington Free Beacon writes:

Official data released by the MPD show that cumulative stops fell 36 percent in the week after George Floyd’s death at the hands of three officers, sparking nationwide protests. That trend has persisted—over the week between July 6 and July 12, MPD officers made just 193 stops, down 77 percent from the same week in 2019.

Stops involving searches of people or their vehicles have also plummeted. MPD conducted just 20 over the week of July 12, and 11 the week before—87 and 90 percent declines, respectively, from the preceding year.

Such stops and searches are thought to play a critical, albeit controversial, role in keeping criminals and deadly firearms off the street—an analogous decline drove up homicide in Chicago. As such, the drop-off in searches may be fueling the ongoing violence.

And, tragically, the rise in crime which this research is also being seen. Figure 1 shows the number of homicides in Minneapolis for two periods, January 1st to May 25th and May 26th to July 14th, with a median average for 2015-2019 and the number for 2020. For the period before George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day, homicides were up 33% in Minneapolis over the average of the same period in the previous five years. For the period since Memorial Day, the number of homicides in Minneapolis – 18 – is up 50% over the average of the same period in the previous five years. And, as I wrote last week, at least 15 of the 18 victims – 83% – were black. This surge in crime, consequent to the withdrawal of policing, is devastating the city’s black community.

Figure 1: Homicides in Minneapolis 

Source: City of Minneapolis

That reduced policing leads to more crime is another manifestation of the consistent research finding that more cops means less crime. What will happen to crime in Minneapolis if the City Council gets its way and there are no cops?

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.