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Misdemeanor Arrests Decline

Studies indicate that misdemeanor arrests have dropped substantially over the past several years particularly in big cities.  Jacob Gershman reports in the Wall Street Journal that some experts see the drop as evidence of a "very deep reset of the fundamental relationship between police and public."  New York City saw misdemeanor arrests drop by 50% since 2010, with black men as the major beneficiaries.  In St. Louis the arrest rate for black men declined by 80% since 2005, while Los Angeles saw a 47% drop in misdemeanor arrests since 2008.  But as the article notes, many experts are confused about what is causing this drop. U.C. Irvine professor Alexandra Natapoff is probably correct in observing that "misdemeanor enforcement is much less sensitive to actual crime rates and influenced by changing political and cultural winds."  The annual numbers, even for reported felonies, is a lagging indicator which, while helpful in determining trends, does not accurately reflect the amount of crime in a given community. 
In the 1990s New York and San Francisco demonstrated that taking a tough, consistent approach on misdemeanor offenses resulted in reductions of all types of crime.  In the places where reported misdemeanors have dropped significantly, aggressive enforcement of "quality of life" laws such a drug dealing, vagrancy, vandalism, theft and even some assaults have been abandoned, either through federal consent decrees against police departments, laws reducing or removing penalties, or political pressure.  As we have learned first hand in California, when the consequences of criminal behavior are reduced or eliminated, you get more criminal behavior.  So while reported misdemeanors are way down, dozens of unreported misdemeanors are occurring every minute on city streets filled with drug dealers, smash and grab thieves, porch pirates, drunks and drug-addicted homeless.  For law enforcement reformers this is an acceptable price to pay for social justice.  "We were locking people up for minor things," said the Chief Strategy Officer for the Seattle Police Department. "There started to be a realization that you were often exacerbating the problem."      

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