We haven’t even yet reached the traditional summer spike in crime, and yet major U.S. cities are already experiencing historic murder rates after 2020 saw a 33% increase in homicides.
In the first three months of this year, the homicide rate in more than 30 U.S. cities increased by 24% – and gun assaults increased by 22% –compared to the same period in 2020. Just look at Atlanta, where homicides are up nearly 60% in 2021. Los Angeles homicides have increased nearly 27% since 2020, and in Philadelphia, as of May 21 homicides year-to-date are up 38%.
This unprecedented increase in violence coincides with a push for police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. One example of a policing policy overhaul can be found right here in Philadelphia. In a three-month pilot program aimed at overcoming racial bias, police officers in northwest Philadelphia will no longer be allowed to stop or detain people for certain “quality of life” violations. These violations account for about 40% of all stops, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The violations included in this pilot program are still being finalized, but they could include: panhandling, smoking marijuana, urinating in public, boom cars, or holding open liquor containers.
As part of the new protocol that begins August 1st, police must first tell the offender to quit the behavior or move along – and police can only conduct a stop if the person doesn’t comply. This program is part of other measures that were ordered by a federal judge, who’s overseeing decade-old civil rights litigation regarding the city’s stop-and-frisk practices.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs told The Philadelphia Inquirer they’ll ask the court to expand the pilot program citywide unless the city shows major problems. In a statement to CNN, the City of Philadelphia said:
“We look forward to working further with plaintiffs’ counsel to implement, but more importantly, analyze the results of the program. We certainly hope that the pilot leads to better outcomes for the community, and, if not, we are committed to talking through changes to the program or other options.”
However, in an April court filing, the city had stated that barring these stops would “deprive PPD of a valuable crime-fighting tool at a time when Philadelphia’s homicide rates have never been higher” and “could have grave consequences for policing in Philadelphia, and for the safety of Philadelphia citizens.”
At that time, the plaintiffs’ attorneys responded by saying there’s no causative relationship between quality-of-life stops and shootings in Philadelphia.
But this intersection of police reform and an unrelenting surge in gun violence is leaving law enforcement officials across the country scrambling for solutions.
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told CNN: “The whole nature of proactive policing is being questioned at the same time you’re seeing increases in murders and shootings.”
With police departments across the country under the microscope, is now the time for progressive police reforms?