Leading up to this year’s midterm elections, TV ads featured Republicans blaming Democrats and progressive prosecutors for rising crime rates. Republicans made the issue a major piece of their campaign platform, according to numerous media reports.
Despite these attacks, progressive prosecutors and criminal justice reform supporters won widespread victories across the nation, according to a summary of midterm results by The Marshall Project. Meanwhile, Republicans candidates generally underperformed in the 2022 midterm elections.
In New York, for example, democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul won her reelection bid. According to reporting in The Atlantic, she was attacked by a conservative super PAC for supporting “the state’s disastrous cashless bail experiment” and for being unwilling to “remove liberal prosecutors … who too often downgrade charges for dangerous criminals.”
Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman won a U.S. senate seat over TV personality and GOP candidate Dr. Kehmet Oz, who focused on the Democrat’s record on crime and criminal justice reform. The National Republican Senatorial Committee tried to associate Fetterman with “sanctuary cities, weak prosecutors, crime skyrocketing — failed liberal policies making us less safe,” according to The Atlantic.
The Marshall Project reported progressive prosecutors won elections in several states — both blue and red. This included Hays County near Austin, TX and Des Moines Iowa’s Polk County, as well as Minneapolis’ Hennepin County, Seattle’s King County, and Oakland’s Alameda County among others.
In Minneapolis, voters elected a former public defender who promised to create a police accountability unit in the DA’s office. Seattle’s winning DA candidate beat out an opponent who promised to push back on all the “overboard with social reform.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland’s new District Attorney Pamela Price is a civil rights attorney and reform advocate who made history as the first Black person in the county to hold the office.
Such push back seemed likely to succeed after the recall of San Francisco’s progressive DA Chesa Boudin earlier this year. Boudin had become a lightning rod for “tough-on-crime” critics amid frequent media reports on crime during the pandemic.
Since then, Los Angeles’ progressive DA George Gascón survived a recall attempt and the midterm success of progressive prosecutors appear to vindicate criminal reform advocates. According to reporting by the Pew Research Center, voters concerned about crime leading up the midterm election did not appear receptive to “tough-on-crime” policy arguments recycled by Republican candidates.
Proponents of the progressive prosecutor movement contend such polices have proven ineffectual and have disproportionately harmed people of color and disadvantaged communities. Columnist Chris Geidner said these progressive victories will be “a counterpoint to lots of the national reporting on criminal justice politics.”
The constant barrage of negative attack ads on TV during the election and common media narratives about crime contain assumptions that crime rates are going up and that progressive prosecutors and criminal justice reforms are to blame.
However, the actual data shows neither assumption is true.
Statistics reported by the Pew Research Center and The Marshall Project sourced from the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that national crimes rates for both violent and property crimes have been declining since high points in the 1970s through the 1990s.
The only exception is homicide, which according to the statistics has increased during the pandemic by approximately 30% to a rate of 7.8 people per 100,000. The Pew Research Center noted that murder rates are still well below previous highs and homicide remains the least common type of violent crime.
Yet at the same time, a recent Gallup poll cited by the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans who believe crime rose in their area is the highest it’s been in the last 30 years.
The discrepancy between actual crime rates and the perception of crime by the public speaks to the potential influence of the media and statements from political candidates, in particular Republicans emphasizing crime on the campaign trail, among other potential factors, noted the Pew Research Center.
As for the second assumption, a comprehensive study released by the think tank Center for American Progress in Oct 2022 discussed in the The Atlantic article refutes the claim that policies by progressive prosecutors have increased crime.
Led by a team of academic researchers, the study compared crime rates in cities with progressive prosecutors versus those with more traditional and conservative DAs. No meaningful difference was found in trends for larceny or robbery between the two groups, and homicide rates had increased less in cities with progressive prosecutors.
“I think it’s really important to emphasize the extent to which we looked for a relationship and found none” between progressive policies and increased crime, said Todd Foglesong of the University of Toronto, one of the co-authors of the study.
Progressive prosecutors have now won elections in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles among other cities. According Philadelphia’s progressive DA Larry Krasner, as cited in The Atlantic, about 20% of the nation now lives in jurisdictions with a progressive prosecutor compared to virtually none 10 years ago.
The progressive prosecutor movement typically includes common policies such as reducing the use of cash bail, rarely prosecuting juveniles as adults, supporting more prison diversion programs, more vigorous prosecution of police misconduct cases, and discouraging the criminalization of social problems like homelessness.