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Mayors: Fighting Crime, Defunding Police Not An Either-Or Choice

In 2020, amid demands to "defund" the police, Baltimore City Council president Brandon Scott led a charge to cut tens of millions of dollars from the police budget. Scott now is mayor, and the police budget has gone up in the face of an onslaught of homicides that shows no signs of relenting. The city just endured its highest January homicide total on record, and has logged seven straight years with 300 or more killings.

Scott says the city doesn’t have to choose between fighting violent crime and reforming law enforcement. “This is not an either-or approach,” Scott said. “It has to be both-and.” In major cities, leaders — most of them Democrats — are advancing plans to add police officers, target high-crime areas and roll back reforms that they say have aided criminals without enhancing equity, reports the Washington Post. Mayors are attempting a delicate balance that weighs the demands of social justice with the fears of citizens rattled by violent crime. In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey has been the target of demonstrations after police killed 22-year-old Amir Locke during a “no-knock” raid, despite the mayor’s claim to have banned such operations.

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg have offered starkly different visions of how authorities should approach criminal justice. Bragg, who faced intense criticism for a prosecution policy that took a more lenient approach to certain crimes, reversed course in some areas in response to the furor. “Mayors and police chiefs are between a rock and a hard place,” said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a University of Baltimore criminologist. Their residents want equity in policing, while also feeling exasperated that leaders “are not doing enough to decrease violent crime. They’re fed up.” Ross said there are so many factors that determine whether crime rises or falls that mayors actually have limited control.

“Institutional racism is a major part of it. Poverty is a major part of it. Housing is a major part of it. It’s not just one thing,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. “People are looking for a magic wand. We don’t have a magic wand.” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell won election last year on a pledge to grow the police force from its current size of fewer than 1,000 officers to as many as 1,400. He also wants to create a new category of unarmed officer to handle crimes such as shoplifting, and to help dispel the image of “the macho gun-and-badge officer accosting a person of poverty.”


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