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Progressive Prosecutors Drove Up Property Crimes, But Not Violence

Counties that elect progressive prosecutors have seen their property crimes rise, compared to counties with law-and-order prosecutors, but their violence rates did not show the same surge, a new study concludes.

The study in the journal Criminology & Public Policy by researchers at the University of Miami, University of California Irvine and Arizona State University tackled what it called the "surprisingly little empirical research on the topic" by examining crime rates in prosecutors' countywide jurisdictions from 2000 to 2020.

“All but one prior study on this topic has examined crime rates at the city level,” said Nick Petersen, associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Miami, who led the study. “By investigating crime rates at the county level, our study offers a more complete picture of the relation between crime rates and progressive prosecution policies across a prosecutor’s jurisdiction.”

In counties among the country's 100 largest with prosecutors deemed by the researchers to be progressive, property crime over the 20-year span grew by 7% relative to traditional prosecutors' counties. This fueled nearly all of a 6.7% overall crime increase. Most of the relative increases occurred since 2013, "a period with an increasing number of progressive prosecutors," the study states.

The findings have policy implications, the researchers concluded. "Given that prior research shows progressive prosecutors reduce mass incarceration and racial inequalities, our findings indicate that higher property crime rates may be the price for these advancements," they wrote.

The authors point out that the estimated effects are relative differences in crime trends, not absolute differences in crime. In absolute terms, crime rates fell over the study, but property and total crime rates declined more markedly in counties with traditional prosecutors. Yet for violent crimes, the election of progressive prosecutors had no reliable overall effect across the study, but it had significant effects on crime from 2014 to 2016.

The effects of progressive prosecutors appear to vary by time in office, with relatively higher crime rates in the first decade and declining relative crime rates afterward.


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