A Most Violent Year: How Police Are Fighting a New Crime Wave

Jan. 7, 2023
With protests and the pandemic in the past, a violent crime surge has become the new concern for major cities, and law enforcement officials hope figuring out the causes will lead to solutions.

Philadelphia has been having a brutal 2022. As the year winds down, murders in the city are poised to possibly reach or surpass last year’s tally of 562 homicides, which was a record. Shootings have been up, and the number of gunshot victims younger than 18 is among the highest it has been in recent years. Overall violent crime has increased, and the issue was a hot-button topic in the run-up to the midterm elections in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

This article appeared in the November/December issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to view the digital edition. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

“The truth is the homicides are not happening in a vacuum; there are those out there who are determined to attack and kill their victims,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told NPR in March. “While we are making constant adjustments to mitigate this sickening reality, our officers, simply put, just can’t keep up by being everywhere at all times.”

Although extreme, the City of Brotherly Love isn’t the only metro area dealing with the ever-expanding shadow of violent crime. West of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh has seen a 25% increase in murders over 2021, while down south, New Orleans surpassed last years’ homicides with two months left in 2022. Even in Chicago, which has seen decreases in shootings and murders, crimes like robbery and aggravated battery are seeing major spikes.

After years of dealing with protests and a pandemic, law enforcement across the country is now faced with another set of extremes as violent crime surges in many cities. In its November report looking at the first nine months of 2022, the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) found that 25 law enforcement agencies serving large metro areas were seeing an increase in murders compared to the previous year. That included cities such as Milwaukee, St. Louis, San Antonio, Phoenix and Portland, Oregon. When it came to robberies and aggravated assault, all 70 departments in the report were outpacing their 2021 totals during the comparable span last year.

An emboldened criminal element

When Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia considers the face of this escalation in violet crime, he sees a perpetrator who feels more brazen to commit offenses.

"That’s an absolute fact that they feel more emboldened,” Garcia, who is MCCA’s incoming president, tells OFFICER Magazine.

The chief acknowledges that a lack of public support for law enforcement in some communities—a lingering, albeit fading hangover, from the days and months in 2020 post-George Floyd—has contributed to the audaciousness of this year’s criminal. But that’s not something Garcia has seen in his own city.

“There’s not a neighborhood we’ve found that wants less law enforcement,” he says. “Often communities plead for more police."

Instead, the attitude shift among offenders could also stem from a lack of fear that the justice system will keep them behind bars while they await trial following an arrest. That’s certainly a factor given merit by some of Garcia’s fellow chiefs.

“We must push forward as we continue to advocate for further refinements to the state’s well-meaning criminal justice reforms that too many recidivists and violent criminals exploit,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in August while addressing the city’s spike in nearly every major crime category.

After three Philadelphia SWAT unit members were wounded in October by a gunman who was wanted for a murder and several armed robberies, Commissioner Outlaw said: “We are tired of arresting the same suspects over and over again, only to see them right back out on the street to continue and sometimes escalate their criminal ways."

That’s a perspective that Patrick Yoes can agree with. The president of the National Fraternal Order of Police admits that multiple factors go into any crime increases, but he believes one of the most glaring reasons for the current surge is an “obvious one to anyone in law enforcement.” According to Yoes, too many cities are no longer able to effectively execute the proven strategy of keeping violent criminals off the streets.

“The majority of crime is committed by a small percentage of people,” he tells OFFICER Magazine. “And when we take those people out of the position to be able to further their carnage on their communities, then we see crime go down.”

But Yoes feels this strategy “is out the window now,” and he puts the blame for that at the feet of “progressive prosecutors” and bail reform in some cities. Lenient policies and officials when it comes to repeat offenders don’t serve the public and endanger citizens, according to Yoes.

“When all of the aspects of government work together as one unit, then you see cities of large sizes that don’t necessarily have high crime,” he says. “But when you see cities where you have the revolving door, and you have bail reform, and you have all of these things and make it easier for that small percentage of people who prey on communities to get back on the streets. Well, that carnage is going to continue."

In fact, Yoes says he sees this effect playing out in Philadelphia, where articles of impeachment were filed against District Attorney Larry Krasner over the city’s crime rate. “Philadelphia is a perfect example,” he says. “Law enforcement is out there every single day. They’re doing a job. But at the same time, there’s a revolving door that exists within Philadelphia without having any consequences for (criminal) actions. It’s no surprise that you see an increase in violent crime.

“And look at cities across this country, the ones that have that same ideology …,” he adds. “There are several spokes to this wheel, and when one takes itself out of it, then it affects the effectiveness of all of it.”

A lack of consequences

“Revolving door” justice systems aren’t just endangering the citizens of some cities, Yoes says, they’re also putting police officers at risk. Through October, 281 law enforcement officers were shot, 55 of them fatally, according to the FOP. There were 71 ambush-style attacks on officers during that same span, and 104 officers were shot, 27 of them fatally.

“Clearly, we need to look at the fact that when there’s a lack of consequences, then people feel emboldened to do these things,” says Yoes.

That increased on-duty risk can also play into another reason for the country’s violent crime surge: staffing shortages among law enforcement agencies. Garcia has seen the effect the greater on-the-job danger and disrespect for law enforcement can have on recruiting. Smarter policing can only go so far if there aren’t enough officers on the street. And when new crop of officers can’t fill department openings fast enough, the added burden on the rank and file can deal a powerful blow to morale, leading to officers retiring early and exacerbating staffing issues.

Yoes goes even further with how he characterizes officer shortages. He believes the law enforcement community faces an existential crisis when it comes to recruiting and retention. “The best and the brightest are simply not taking this job, not at the rates that we need to backfill the amount of people are leaving,” says Yoes.

“So we have a crisis. That crisis is that we need to police our communities,” he adds. “We need to do it in a safe way. And that many people leaving is making it harder for those that are staying, exposing them to a lot more. We’ve got to find a path forward with this."

One solution, according to Yoes, is for agencies to truly recognize the demands that they’re asking of officers.

“It’s hard,” he says. “Law enforcement goes through a background investigation. They go they go through physical assessments, and they go through mental evaluations. Yet we find law enforcement officers that are struggling just years after they get on this job because of that repetitive exposure to trauma that they witness every day.

“And so I think we have a moral and fiduciary responsibility in every community across this country, every agency across this country, to recognize the damage we’re doing to law enforcement officers and give them the resources in order to be able to take care of them, to fix what was broken in the service of others.”

A silver lining

Despite the graveness in national statistics, Garcia has made positive strides combatting violent crime in Dallas. He presented the department’s three-phase strategy, which began May of last year, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in October. In its first 12 months, the city saw an 11.5% decrease in “street violent crime.”

Garcia describes the plan as data-driven, and the department began working with University of Texas at San Antonio criminologists in December 2020 to develop it. The short-term focus of the strategy looks at “hot-spot policing.” It breaks Dallas into a grid of microlocations “where violent crime is concentrated … prioritizing street-level deterrence and arrest of repeat offenders in these areas,” according to a department summary of the plan.

“The strategy is evidence-based and relies on increased police visibility and intelligence-led offender targeting rather than generalized ‘stop and frisk’ or other dragnet tactics,” states the summary.

The second part of the plan focuses on a place-based investigations strategy to identify and disrupt networks of locations contributing to a disproportionate amount of violent crime in the city. The plan’s longer term, final phase involves focus deterence and urban blight abatement, an approach that allows officers to engage with and make stronger connections with the neighborhoods and communities they serve. “One of the most important parts of our systems that will help us reduce violent crime is a department’s men and women,” says Garcia. “They haven’t felt appreciated and they haven’t felt supported. And when that occurs— it doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in—you’re going to disengage. We can make our officers answer 9-1-1, but we can’t make them be proactive.”

Yoes also sees value in re-engaging officers so that they become more invested in the communities they serve. Not only does he see the positive effects it can on directly curbing violent crime, but he also sees the potential for creating the next generations of law enforcement officers.“We need to take care of the officers that are on the streets. That is our greatest source of recruiting,” he says. “Take care of the people on the street. Take care of the ones that are working. Because they’re your best advocates. They’re the best ambassadors for what we do.”

This article appeared in the November/December issue of OFFICER Magazine.

Sponsored Recommendations

Build Your Real-Time Crime Center

March 19, 2024
A checklist for success

Whitepaper: A New Paradigm in Digital Investigations

July 28, 2023
Modernize your agency’s approach to get ahead of the digital evidence challenge

A New Paradigm in Digital Investigations

June 6, 2023
Modernize your agency’s approach to get ahead of the digital evidence challenge.

Listen to Real-Time Emergency 911 Calls in the Field

Feb. 8, 2023
Discover advanced technology that allows officers in the field to listen to emergency calls from their vehicles in real time and immediately identify the precise location of the...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Officer, create an account today!