Washington, D.C. — Evidence from 10 jurisdictions shows that violent crime rates dropped after the enactment of comprehensive police reform, undermining claims by critics that reforms threaten public safety. This is the main finding of a column published today by the Center for American Progress, which analyzed violent crime rates over time in 10 jurisdictions where the police department fulfilled a reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, following a pattern-or-practice investigation of systemic police misconduct.
The authors based their analysis on estimates of violent crime rates from the FBI’s “Crime in the United States” publications spanning from 1995 to 2019, which covers the entire timeline within which the agreements were reached and fulfilled. These agreements emphasized institutional reforms to address systemic police misconduct—as opposed to isolated instances of wrongdoing—and, as such, serve as appropriate benchmarks for the type of comprehensive police reform that advocates are calling for today.
The analysis considered the pre- and post-agreement rates in all 10 jurisdictions, where four of these agreements were consent decrees and six were memorandums of agreement. Key findings include:
- Violent crime rates declined in all 10 jurisdictions post-agreement, following the national trend. This evidence shows that comprehensive police reforms are associated with less violent crime, not more.
- In all four jurisdictions where the police departments fulfilled a consent decree with the division, the pre- and post-agreement rates followed the national trend.
- In Pittsburgh, the rate followed an upward national trend from 1995 to 1997, the year in which the consent decree entered into force. Since 2002, the year in which the consent decree was terminated, the rate followed a downward national trend for more than 15 years. Although Pittsburgh’s rate increased during the agreement while the national rate decreased, such a divergence does not affect one’s understanding of the impact of comprehensive police reform, since the uptick occurred before the reforms were fully implemented.
- In Easton, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., where the police departments fulfilled a memorandum of agreement, the pre- and post-agreement rates also followed the national trend.
- In Beacon, New York, the rate had been fluctuating slightly pre-agreement but decreased slightly post-agreement. In Montgomery County, Maryland, and Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, the rates had been increasing pre-agreement but decreased post-agreement.
“We are all safer when our policing practices are fair, just, and equitable,” says Betsy Pearl, associate director for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. “Our analysis debunks claims that police reform is a threat to public safety. When we look at the data instead of listening to fear-mongering rhetoric, we see no evidence that comprehensive police reform is associated with increased violence.”
Read the column: “Violent Crime Rates Declined in 10 Jurisdictions Following Comprehensive Police Reform” by Kenny Lo and Sarah Figgatt.
- “How To Reinvest in Communities When Reducing the Scope of Policing” by Ed Chung and Betsy Pearl
- “Assessing the State of Police Reform: How Jurisdictions Are Responding to Calls for a Fundamental Change in Policing” by Kenny Lo
- “Beyond Policing: Investing in Offices of Neighborhood Safety” by Betsy Pearl
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at gro.ssergorpnacirema@sonicetnomc.