White House blames 'defunding' of police for rise in crime — retroactively

The White House press secretary on Tuesday blamed the spike in crime in several cities over the past month on the movement to “defund” the police, making a logical leap that criminologists say has no basis in fact.

During her afternoon press briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany linked the crime rate in New York City with local officials’ support for “defunding” the police, which generally means reallocating funds from police departments to social services and programs. Municipal budgets are set in advance, and the effect of any defunding proposals could not have affected crime rates that began rising months ago.

“In New York City, you had the New York City Council voting to cut the police budget by $1 billion. ... [You had] New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio saying, ‘We think it’s the right thing to do.’ It was absolutely not the right thing to do, as we’ve seen a 177 percent increase in shootings from July 2019 [to July of this year] in New York. When you defund the police there are consequences, and that’s where the Democrats of today stand. And unfortunately we’ve seen a corresponding rise in violence in these Democratic cities, and it’s not acceptable.”

She drew the same connection between spiking crime rates in Minneapolis and Los Angeles and proposals that affect the cities’ police departments.

It’s true that officials in those cities are moving forward with measures that cut funding for police departments or, in Minneapolis’s case, dismantle the police department and replace it with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. In New York City, where shootings have spiked in recent months, the City Council and de Blasio agreed on a budget for fiscal year 2021 that includes $1 billion in cuts and cost shifts to the New York Police Department, de Blasio announced on June 30.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany during a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

But these actions are relatively new. The New York City budget, for example, has not been fully enacted.

“Kayleigh’s comments don’t make any sense and don’t add up,” Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for de Blasio, told Yahoo News in a statement on Tuesday. “But that isn’t anything new. What’s more telling is the blame the White House is trying to cast as they refuse to take action on a stimulus in the face of the worst economic drop in history and a pandemic that is reshaping daily life. We’ve been clear it’s a perfect storm that is driving this shooting uptick, and Washington needs to do their part for once.”

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said there is no connection between the municipal legislation and increasing crime, which he dates back to late May.

Rosenfeld added that cities’ being under Democratic leadership is “completely irrelevant” to understanding the causes of the increase in violent crime.

“It makes no criminological sense,” he told Yahoo News. “The party affiliation of the mayor has no direct impact on crime.”

Rosenfeld and other criminologists have attributed rising crime to several factors, including the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty and increasingly strained relations between police and communities in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. Most large cities have Democratic mayors, but authorities do not believe that has anything to do with crime rates.

McEnany’s comments, and the Trump administration’s fixation on violent crime, are motivated by politics, according to Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. President Trump’s reelection campaign ran an ad on July 2 that suggested defund-the-police efforts would lead to utter lawlessness, Politifact reported.

“It’s a complicated topic, and they’re distilling it into the idea that the Democrats want to put the police out of business,” O’Donnell said. “So they’re doing that because that works best for a 30-second commercial. And of course, it’s a more complicated conversation. But for their purposes it does the trick.”

Speaking about the NYPD, O’Donnell said the budget is a “futuristic document.”

“It’s hard to make the case that the shootings in June and July have increased because of the funding.”


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