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Elections Mark Shift To Center On Criminal Justice In Blue Cities

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San Francisco’s liberal voters this week endorsed drug screenings for welfare recipients. D.C.’s progressive City Council passed a crime package Tuesday that will keep more people in jail awaiting trial. New York’s governor on Wednesday ordered hundreds of National Guard troops to deploy inside the city’s troubled subway system.

The biggest, bluest cities are embracing tough-on-crime policies that would have been politically heretical just a few years ago — ratcheting up criminal penalties and expanding police power amid fear and anger over a rash of brazen crimes like carjackings and retail theft, reports Politico.

These Democrat-led policy changes mark a stark reversal from 2020, when the influence of progressives fueled a national effort to curb police powers and scale back law enforcement budgets after the murder of George Floyd.

Now the left is in retreat on criminal justice.

“I don’t believe it’s progressive to allow people to get assaulted on the streets at night. I don’t believe it’s progressive to allow people to sleep in tents,” said Mark Farrell, a moderate Democrat challenging San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “This is not the city I grew up in. It’s not a city I recognize right now.”

Blue cities are pushing these harsher policies even as reported crime totals have dropped significantly nationwide after big spikes during the pandemic — although that trendline has been slower to emerge in some major cities like Washington and San Francisco.

It’s the perception of increased crime that is driving many of these changes as Republicans continue to pillory Democrats as weak on law enforcement in the run-up to the presidential election.

“What we’re seeing now is a recognition that we have to lean in and do more as government to provide for the safety and well-being of our residents,” said Democrat Brooke Pinto, the D.C. council member who championed the crime package. “We didn’t do a complete 180 from where we were, but instead we looked at the practical realities on the ground and sought to right-size many of those reforms.”

California has epitomized the ebb and flow of criminal justice politics. After championing stringent penalties for decades that filled prisons to capacity, the state has spent the last several years swinging in the other direction as its politics and urban centers became ever-more Democratic.

This week’s election results mark a shift back to the center.

In San Francisco, voters passed Breed’s ballot initiatives to lift restrictions on police operations and screen welfare recipients for drug use — two traditionally conservative proposals that nevertheless resonated with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, illustrating voters’ frustration with public drug use.

In Los Angeles, progressive District Attorney George Gascón is limping into his reelection bid. Four years ago, Gascón channeled a racial justice upsurge to topple an incumbent on a platform of reducing incarceration and prosecuting more police officers. His win was a victory for a national movement to elect liberal prosecutors.

His standing has eroded badly. In a Tuesday primary packed with challengers Gascón won around a fifth of the votes — a dismal showing for an incumbent. He will match up with former prosecutor Nathan Hochman.

In New York, Hochul’s announcement, which includes increasing the numbers of state and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police in the subways, comes two days after she doubled down on her commitment to fighting crime.

On Monday, the governor lauded state officers for increasing gun seizures and driving down violent crimes and carjackings upstate. “This is not just a one off; this is the type of aggressive policing that our state police has been engaged in every single day,” Hochul said.


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