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Police Reform Is Impossible in America


In recent weeks, the White House has reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening "community policing" around the country. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has coalesced around the same theme, releasing a report days ago with recommendations for community policing measures to be adopted nationally. The suggestions for building better "relationships" and boosting "trust" are comprehensive but, for a national crisis brought on by the killing of unarmed black people, there's one thing conspicuously absent from the public policy solutions: the acknowledgement of racism.

The New Testament says that faith is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Well, in the absence of data to support excessive policing and police brutality in communities of color, it appears that America has just stepped out on faith.

Rates of violent crime are down and have been falling sharply for more than 20 years. In fact, since the early 90s, the national homicide rate has fallen by 51 percent, forcible rapes have declined by 35 percent, robberies have decreased by 56 percent and the rate of aggravated assault has been cut by 45 percent. And black Americans have contributed to the decline. For blacks, rates of robbery and serious property offenses are the lowest they've been in more than 40 years. Murder, rape, assault, domestic violence—all down.

America is safer than it was 20 years ago. Really. Still, white Americans (and many black Americans, for that matter) believe there's more violent crime than there actually is, and that blacks are largely responsible for it.

In fact, nearly half of white Americans polled believe that violent crime has increased in the last 20 years. Another 13 percent believe that it's stayed the same. Less than a quarter of whites realize there are less violent crimes today than there were in the 90s when the crack epidemic and gang violence were at their height. Even more, whites overestimate just how much blacks are involved in "serious street crime" and, on average, believe that black people commit a larger proportion of crime than whites do. According to a 2012 study by researchers at the University at Albany, whites significantly overestimate the share of armed robberies, break-ins and drug crimes committed by black people.