Crime is down 25 percent in Grand Rapids, and there is little evidence that police prevent crime at all. So let’s stop calling for more police hires during brief surges of crime.
On July 7th, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA), the labor union for Grand Rapids police officers, sergeants, and crime scene technicians, made the following statement in response to a stretch of shootings that took place in Grand Rapids:
“The recent and continued violence is the direct result of city officials not properly staffing and supporting the police department. To allow the police department to be constantly scrutinized discourages any type of proactive enforcement necessary to keep Grand Rapids safe. It is evident that stop the violence rallies have no affect on criminal activity. It's time to let GRPD get back to policing.”
It is time to end the myth that more police equals more safety. The biggest evidence of this is a simple comparison between annual numbers of US police and reported crime. From 1997 - 2013, the United States saw an increase in 75,000 more local police, sheriff’s deputies, and state police officers. However, this number began to decline since 2013. Crime trends in the US have not correlated with this rise and fall in police. Violence started to rise in the 1960s, stayed very high through the 1970s to the early 1990s, and has sharply fallen to the present day even as police have declined. In other words, as police numbers have declined in the US so has crime.
This decline in crime in relationship to declines in police hold true locally as well. In 2002, the Grand Rapids Police Department had 382 sworn police officers serving a population of 196,500 (1.9 officers per 1,000 residents). In 2018, the Grand Rapids Police Department had 295 sworn officers (1.5 officers per 1,000 residents). However, crime is down in Grand Rapids today, as it is in most major cities.
In 2019, the City of Grand Rapids funded a third party firm, Hilliard Heintze LLC, to conduct a staffing and deployment study of the Grand Rapids Police Department. The findings were clear: The GRPD did not need any more sworn police officers, they needed to correctly deploy the resources they currently have. This was most evidenced by the fact that calls for service have remained the same for the past 10 years, but crime has decreased by 25 percent in that time frame. If police were the last line of defense against an onslaught of crimes, wouldn't we expect calls for service to sky rocket as the number of sworn officers fall?
To be more specific about just how low crime has gotten to the present, we can review specific crime data in Grand Rapids. Crime data for Grand Rapids goes back to 2003:
Part 1 Offences: (Murder, Rape, Robbery, Aggravated Assault, Burglary, Larceny, Motor Theft, Arson,)
- Part 1 Offences 2003: Total of 11,956 offences.
- Part 1 Offences 2018: Total of 6,663 offences.
- Total Decline = 44-45% decline over 15 years.
Part 2 Offences: (Non-Aggravated Assault, Forgery, Counterfeit Fraud, Embezzlement, Stolen Property, Vandalism, Weapons, Prostitution, Sex Offenses, Narcotics Laws, Gabling, Family & Children, DUI, Liquor Laws, Disorderly Conduct)
- Part 2 Offences 2003: Total of 13,932
- Part 2 Offences 2018: Total of 10,118
- Total Decline = Just over a 27% Decline over 15 Years.
- 2002 = 382
- 2018 = 295
- Total Decline = Just over 23% total decline.
It is readily apparent that not only has there been a big drop in low level crimes such as vandalism or DUIs, serious crime has almost cut in half. In the same time frame, the police force was cut by 87 officers (23% decline).
So why is crime is going down, and why are calls for service remaining stable when police numbers are falling in Grand Rapids? The answer is because police do very little to prevent crime. In reviewing scholarly studies, there is very little clear evidence that larger police forces lower crime in cities. Research finds that 75 percent of serious crimes reported are a “discovery crime”, where the incident has already occurred and the crime is essentially over. Despite this evidence, police continue to politic to increase their budgets with staffing. They often cite the need to increase staff to prevent crime, when all more police do is increase response times to crimes already committed.
So what work or policies should we be supporting to help lower crime if police aren’t the answer? Here are a few policies that help reduce crime in cities. If we want to continue to reduce crime even further from it’s currently historically low levels, then advocate for these:
- Provide affordable and ready access to behavioral health care
- Reduce school absenteeism and drop out rates
- Resource neighborhood led interventions (see Flint’s busy streets theory work)
- Create stronger paths for youth employment in high crime areas
Advocating for evidence-based policies that actually reduce crime is the best thing that we can do to reduce crime. It is the best assurance that every police officer is likely to go home safely from their shift each night.