Crush and seizure crime epidemic is definitely man-made

Crime rages across the country, from violent attacks and brazen shoplifting to “smash and grab” mob attacks. The White House this week had a simple answer to the cause of this growing anarchy: It was not about “police funding” efforts, or more restrictive policies for police and prosecutors. It was the familiar scourge cited in debates ranging from infrastructure to supply chains to tax increases – the pandemic.

The pandemic now appears to have reached the mythical levels of the gods who were once blamed for everything that went wrong in life. The Africans had Anansi the Spider, while the Nordics had the trickster Loki. Both were known to assume different identities to create disorder or steal valuable things.

For politicians, it helps to have a crouching Loki to explain that social problems are not really their doing, the result of their failures. The Loki factor was evident at this week’s press conference when Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked about the rise of lawlessness seen in major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles: “Does the president still think crime is on the rise because of the pandemic?” White House press secretary Jen psakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care – Presented by March of Dimes – Access to abortion for 65 million women at stake Overnight Defense & National Security – US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine CONTINUED replied that “a lot of people have passed this on.”

Doocy persisted, “So when a huge group of criminals organize themselves and they want to go and loot a store – a CVS, a Nordstrom, a Home Depot until the shelves are clean – do you think that? is because of the pandemic? Psaki replied, “I think a root cause in many communities is the pandemic, yes.”

That damn Loki.

Entire stores have been ransacked by gangs, and crime is sweeping across businesses large and small. At the same time, shoplifting has reached such high levels in cities like San Francisco that stores like Walgreens are closing due to the losses.

Yet some in the media have echoed the idea that such brazen crimes are just responses to the dire conditions caused by the pandemic. When CBS Morning News aired a clip of a man casually emptying a shelf of hair care products into a trash bag, then pulling his bike out of a Walgreens, co-host Tony Dokoupil insisted about how it sounded like “an act of desperation.” I mean, you don’t get rich with what you take from a Walgreens, you probably get something you need. I do not know the details of this particular case. Indeed, the first priority for most people during a pandemic is to steal dozens of hair care products.

It also appears that pandemic subsistence pickers felt compelled to seize $ 79,000 worth of handbags from a Givenchy store in New York City. Handbags certainly appear to be a COVID necessity in this accessory-deprived nation: When a gang hit Burberry’s on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, they also ran past an assortment of clothing to grab high-priced handbags .

Crimes have become so serious in New York City that the CEO of Bank of America this week sent out suggestions on how employees should “strip” and take other survival measures to avoid victimization. Citibank offers car services to avoid having to walk the city streets.

For years, many of these cities have seen calls to “spend the police” and many, like New York City, have cut police budgets. Groups like the ACLU have insisted that “funding the police will make us safer.” Undercover units and armed violence units have been eliminated; police practices, from the pursuit of certain suspects to roadside checks, have been reduced or stopped. Prosecutors have also faced political and legal changes regarding decriminalization, opposition to parole, and other law enforcement limitations.

In some cities, such as San Francisco, police have largely stopped responding to shoplifting calls after state law was changed to make the theft of goods worth $ 950 or less a simple offense. Career prosecutors there resigned after the election of district attorney Chesa Boudin, who is accused of a sharp decrease in prosecutions.

In New York City, Democratic politicians pushed through sweeping penal reforms that include “clean slate” legislation that would seal felonies after three years and crimes after seven years. The convictions would later be erased completely; millions of cleared offenses. This includes violent offenses.

While many politicians still call for “rethinking the police”, this imagination does not go so far as to see a cause and effect with increasing levels of crime. Instead, it’s the Loki effect of… the pandemic.

The point is, most criminals are rational actors who make a risk calculation in committing offenses. The mobs that hit stores like Bloomingdales are organized gangs. Even shoplifters who steal from stores like Costco and Target are known to quickly sell goods over the Internet through fences.

In 1968, University of Chicago economist Gary Becker wrote his famous article “Crime and Punishment”, in which he claimed that criminals make calculations based on both certainty and the severity of the sentence. . If you increase the certainty or likelihood of the sentence, you Conversely, if there is a low crime detection rate, you can deter some crimes with higher sentence levels.

What is happening in cities like San Francisco is that the certainty and severity of sanctions have fallen below deterrence levels.

Consider the recent cheeky crash in city malls, in which nearly $ 350,000 in merchandise was stolen. After an increase in complaints from citizens, the city finally acted aggressively and arrested 14 people. Yet all were immediately released after treatment under “no bail” laws. If they are prosecuted, they expect relatively light sentences. For other criminals, it’s an easy math: hundreds of thousands of dollars in property can be stolen with a low probability of capture and a relatively low sentence severity.

While Biden’s White House may not see the cause-and-effect realities, these criminals certainly see the cost-benefit realities.

We all live in a pandemic, but most of us don’t look for a Givenchy store to grab a diamond encrusted handbag. It is the action of someone who is certain of the value of the purse, but not of the likelihood of prosecution.

It is still unclear whether this pandemic was caused by humans or just a natural event. However, the increase in crime in our cities is strictly a man-made epidemic.

Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

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