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Police Response to Rising Crime: Are We Becoming Ungovernable?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mark Kling & Linda-Marie Sundstrom
August 18, 2021

According to FBI data, there were more than 20,000 murders in 2020, which represents the highest total since 1995. So far, in 2021, America is on track to experience even higher increases of violent crime. In cities like Albuquerque, Austin and Pittsburg, murders have doubled, and Portland has already seen five times more murders in 2021 than the previous year.

In 2021, nearly 80% of Americans believe violent crime is a major problem and is continuing to get worse. Violent crime has been increasing since 2014, but there was a dangerous spike in 2020, which is continuing well into 2021.

Some analysts attribute the spike in violent crime to the:

  • Decrease in police budgets and the reduction of prosecutions.
  • Calls for dismissal and abolition of police.
  • Reduction of consequences for criminal behavior.

Decrease Police Budgets & Reduction of Prosecutions

American law enforcement is at a critical state. In 2020, major cities reduced police budgets by $870 million. This resulted in fewer patrols, and fewer investigative resources—which led to more unsolved violent crimes. The State of California has initiated releasing 76,000 inmates back into communities, often to the same area where their original crimes occurred. This alarming inmate release consists of 63,000 convicted felons—20,000 of whom were serving life sentences. Although violent crime is increasing, the prison population in California continues to decrease, as designed in Assembly Bill 109 (known as the California Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011). AB-109 shifts state prisoners to county jail facilities. California also reduced penalties for drug and property crimes, and there is a trend towards District Attorneys refusing to prosecute a variety of crimes. The early release of criminals back into society and the decrease in prosecutions increases lawlessness in communities across the country.

Calls for Dismissal & Abolition of Police

In May 2021, the New York Gay Pride Parade organizers demanded that on-duty officers stay at least a block away from the event. The organizers said dismissing the police was their way of acknowledging the harm caused by police, and believed the presence of law enforcement would be threatening and dangerous. This precedent of groups being able to dismiss police and ban them from areas could have devastating impacts on public safety.

Other groups believe the only way to diminish police violence is to reduce contact between the public and the police. Still others want the complete abolition of law enforcement to protect communities. Still others see these actions as compromising the safety of their communities.

Consequences of Criminal Behavior

If laws, prosecution and the role of police are decreased, dismissed or abolished, do communities become safer or less safe? Perhaps the answer lies inside the community itself.

Communities, such as the Amish, are left largely to police themselves. The Amish people see the force of law as contrary to their Christian spirit. They abide strictly by a moral code that values religion over all else and stresses forgiveness. In small, homogenous communities, where the citizens all share the same set of values, it seems they can thrive without the presence of traditional law enforcement. In these types of cultures, consequences for aberrant behavior are believed to be judged harshly by God, and those consequences help to guide people’s behavior, thereby creating a self-restraining, peaceful community.

Unlike Amish communities, most cities in the United States are highly diverse, without a common set of values that serve to keep societies peaceful. In essence, this is what makes America unique as it blends various cultures into a melting pot governed by a common rule of law. Without the presence of law enforcement and prosecution of violations, harmful actions hold no consequences. In 2020, Baltimore cut their police budget by $22 million. Unfortunately, with less law enforcement presence, crime skyrocketed. As a result, the city increased the budget this year by $27 million. In reviewing 20 of the largest law enforcement agencies in states where funding was cut, similar to Baltimore, funding is being restored and increased after only one year of escalating crime.

Achieving Peace Through Social Contracts

Societies are built on social contracts and values. In the absence of the self-imposed behavioral limits of shared values, laws are created and enforced for the protection of all citizens in all communities. However, what if communities that do not hold a common set of values do not want the existence of external law enforcement? How is peace and safety achieved?

We need to begin with honest discussions about how to achieve safe communities. We begin with two choices: 1) Individuals in society conduct themselves with self-restraint for the good and safety of the community; or 2) Society must be governed by the enforcement of laws. However, these options are not “either-or.” Rather, they are a continuum with self-restraint on one side, and government enforcement on the other. The more that communities conduct themselves with restraint, the smaller the role law enforcement must play to achieve safety. If individuals choose not to act with restraint, for the good of society, and law enforcement is dismissed or abolished, society becomes ungovernable and safety for everyone becomes jeopardized.


Dr. Mark Kling has been in law enforcement for 34 years, 13 as police chief. He has taught both Public Administration and Criminal Justice courses for the past 20 years. He is currently the Criminal Justice Program Director for California Baptist University and came out of retirement to transition the Rialto Police Department to new innovative executive leadership. Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

Dr. Linda-Marie Sundstrom is a former Fulbright Scholar who taught Public Administration in Ukraine at a university under the Office of the Ukrainian President. She worked for 20 years in local government and has taught in Master of Public Administration Programs for nearly two decades. She is currently the MPA Program Director for California Baptist University in Southern California. Email: [email protected]

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