Crime-spike myths: COVID didn’t cause it, and it’s not a ‘hysteria’

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Letters to the Editor — July 2, 2021

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Bill Neidhardt, press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, tweeted that COVID led to a horrible shooting spike in cities across the country, but “NYC has fought back gun violence better than other major cities.”

Neither of these statements is true. COVID is a global pandemic, but the rise in violence was uniquely American. New York’s violence rise was real, and it was larger here than in most other cities.

Violence didn’t skyrocket till late May and June, post-George Floyd, well after COVID was at its worst. Nor did other countries, including Canada and Mexico, see a COVID-related increase at all.

Those who wish to dismiss concern over rising violence as “hysteria” do great disservice to the additional 2.5 people who were shot, on average, daily in 2020, compared to 2019 levels. Violence begets violence, and ignoring victims and people in at-risk neighborhoods doesn’t help.

The failure to provide working solutions, or even acknowledge the role of policing and prosecution as one tool of violence prevention, leaves a law-and-order vacuum to be filled by others. The political right seems to believe arrests and incarceration are the only answer. But New York City saw years of decreasing violence happen in sync with fewer arrests and declining incarceration (and, during the 1990s, an increase in poverty).
The mark and goal of effective policing is to arrest behavior, thus preventing the crime in the first place.

In 2018 New York City had a record low 897 shooting victims and 288 murders. In hindsight, alas, this seems to mark the end of NYC’s historic decades-long reduction in violence. Compared with 2019, shootings doubled in 2020, and there were an additional 2.6 shooting victims, on average, each day last year.

With 1,870 shooting victims, 2020 was the deadliest since 2006. And 2021 will see even higher numbers. The de Blasio administration says violence remains lower than it was in 1990. But what an odd benchmark of failure. The point is not to return to those days!
Resting on past success while simultaneously denouncing the policies responsible for that success risk a much more bloody future.

Peter Moskos is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration. He created the Violence Reduction Project and is the author of “Cop in the Hood.”

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