Professor Paul Cassell: We’ve seen a reduction in proactive policing by law enforcement. And that’s had a, I think, a predictable consequence: homicide and shooting crimes have increased.
Diana Maggipinto: This is 3 in 5. I’m Diane Maggipinto, the host of this podcast. Three questions in five minutes from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
My guest today,
Professor Paul Cassell: this is professor Paul Cassell. I teach criminal law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
Diana Maggipinto: We’re talking today about a recent paper of yours titled, “Explaining the Recent Homicide Spikes in U.S. Cities: The ‘Minneapolis Effect’ and the Decline in Proactive Policing”. The title is really all-encompassing.
Let’s jump in. Can you explain that, and what you found in your research?
Professor Paul Cassell: The key question, I think, is why have homicides increased in America over the last year or so? And when I say the last year, we can actually define very precisely when there was a break in the trends in homicides. It was the last week in May, 2020.
And that’s when homicides increased 20 to 30% around the country, there was a structural break in the data. And that was the same time that George Floyd died at the hands of the Minneapolis police department. And as I look at the data, I think what’s gone on since that time is, we’ve seen a reduction in proactive policing by law enforcement.
And that’s had a predictable consequence: homicide and shooting crimes have increased.
Diana Maggipinto: What do you mean by that? What is proactive policing and what is de-policing?
Professor Paul Cassell: Well, proactive policing is something that the police do without, sort of, being summoned to the scene, if you will. A classic example of non- proactive policing is responding to 911 calls..
But police do a lot of things where they’re trying to deter crime in advance of the crime being committed. For example, there might be stop, question, and frisk, or traffic stops or other kinds of things that are designed to prevent a crime from occurring, or to prevent someone from carrying a firearm to what might to then escalate into the scene of a shooting or a homicide.
From what we can tell, looking at the data, that’s exactly the kind of policing that’s declined since the last week in May, 2020. De-policing, I guess, is the way some people would describe it as both a consequence of short-term and longer-term actions. The short-term action was right at the end of May, there were a lot of anti-police protests around the country and police officers were redeployed from traditional strike forces or anti-gun patrols to man the protest lines to make sure the protests were peaceful and didn’t bleed to property damage, or other things.
Then in the longer term, I think a lot of police officers have pulled back, essentially, from proactive policing. A lot of departments I think have changed their policies or at least their informal policies and pulled back from proactive policing. And I think that’s somewhat human nature, somewhat to be expected.
We’ve seen a lot of criticism of the police, some of it certainly well-deserved, but I think police officers are just fearful of becoming the next viral video or otherwise criticized for being too aggressive. And the result has been a reduction in police efforts designed to prevent those who are carrying firearms illegally from using them.
Diana Maggipinto: In your paper, you say that there are many policy implications, and also suggest that there be research into this. Tell us more about that.
Professor Paul Cassell: Yeah, I think we do need to research what’s going on. We can look at different trends in criminal justice. We can try to look at different variables that are involved. In my paper, I try to look at a variety of things.
So of course, one of the big events going on in the United States over the last year or so has been the COVID pandemic and some have attributed the homicide spikes to the pandemic itself and maybe fearfulness by police officers for arresting someone or otherwise being out on patrol. The problem with that theory is it really doesn’t fit.
When you look at when homicides and shootings spiked, it was the last week in May, and of course at that point, the pandemic had already been going on for several months. So that doesn’t seem to explain the initiation of the homicide spikes. And then over the last year or so, of course, with vaccines and other efforts, we’ve been able to, at least to a significant degree, bring the pandemic under control.
And yet we haven’t seen a reduction in homicide rates. I guess the best label I would put on what’s going on is this ‘Minneapolis effect’, which is of course the title of my paper. The idea being that when police came under fire the last week in May, 2020, that’s when police pulled back and that’s what caused the homicide and shooting spikes, at least in urban areas around the country.
Again, one of the things we see with these homicide spices that they’re not uniformly distributed. They are concentrated in major urban areas and particularly a high crime urban areas. So that’s exactly the area where proactive policing, I think, has probably been most depressed as a result of the anti-police protests and the consequences of them been, felt most significantly in those communities.
Diana Maggipinto: That’s all pretty sobering. Where are we today? And moving forward?
Professor Paul Cassell: Well, I think one of the most critical issues that America faces right now is this increase in crime and particularly the increase in homicide and shooting crime. So I’m hopeful that my paper will call attention to the problem and also call attention to what I think may well be the most likely candidate for a cause in the spike.
Because if the cause is de-policing or reduction in proactive policing, then the solution to the problem is to restore those kinds of law enforcement efforts to the levels that they were being conducted by the police before the last week in May.
Diana Maggipinto: That’s 3 in 5 from the University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law.