Politicians have promised in the closing days of the midterm election campaign to crack down on crime. The law-and-order messaging is often disconnected from the nuance of crime trends. In 2022, homicide is up in some places, but down in others like New York City. It’s also devoid of the reality that these offices generally have little power to bend crime trends on the ground, reports the New York Times. Crime surges and falls for reasons that experts don’t fully understand, and it’s hard for even the most proved ideas to reverse its direction quickly. The sense of order in your community is not controlled by your congressman. “You’re not going to fix the problems from there,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and consultant with AH Datalytics in New Orleans. “If you want to fix the problems, go run for mayor.” “U.S. senators don’t determine state prison release policies,” said John MacDonald, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Who you elect to Senate is going to have zero impact on state prisons.”
When voters choose candidates for higher office thinking of crime, they often misunderstand where and how criminal justice decisions get made, said Amy Lerman, a political scientist at the University of California Berkeley. The federal government controls a small fraction of the whole picture. In the U.S., there are 51 prison systems, and about 18,000 police departments. If you see a police officer while walking or driving around your community, that officer is most likely a local one. And those local officers generally report to locally elected bosses like sheriffs, or people appointed by locally elected officials like mayors, said Thomas Ogorzalek, a visiting scholar at the Center for Urban Research at CUNY. “We have a national problem that isn’t solved at the national level,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, a Yale professor and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. “But our national narrative makes it harder to solve it at the local level — which is the only level where it’s going to get solved.” Relaxed gun laws at the federal and state level have allowed more guns on the street and made the problem of local violent crime worse, said Darrel Stephens, a retired chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and former head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.