Police Arresting Fewer People For Minor Offenses Can Help Reduce Police Shootings

Many cities and states attempted to alter their policing strategies in response to the nationwide protests over George Floyd's murder by police last summer. In an effort to decrease the violence between police and the public, one strategy is to make fewer arrests on low-level offenses. For example, Virginia banned police from arresting people for minor traffic violations in the first half of this year. Meanwhile, Oregon decriminalized drug possession. Louisiana prohibited police from arresting people for certain misdemeanors and instead asked police to issue summonses. Cities like San Francisco, Oregon, started sending mental health professionals instead of police to assist people in crisis.These efforts are part of a larger shift in America's largest cities that has been ongoing for many years. Despite the positive impact these changes had on reducing violent encounters between the police and the public, there has been significant backlash to these efforts, especially from law enforcement officials who blame rising murder rates for police pulling back or being defunded.I am a data scientist, founder of the Police Scorecard. This research group analyzes police data to help us understand how we can end police violence. While we are still waiting on the federal government's 2020 and 2021 arrest data, what we know is that the number of low-level police arrests has declined in previous years. This appears to have contributed to a decrease in the number shootings by officers.The FBI Uniform Crime Report data shows that arrest rates have been decreasing since 1990s when crime rates were much lower than they are today. Recent changes in the policing system in America's largest cities have accelerated these declines. In 2019, for example, the number of total arrests by police officers in 86 of America's 100 largest cities was 30% lower than in 2013. This was especially true for low-level offenses. These are offenses that do not involve crimes against persons, sex offenses and weapons offenses. The largest decline in low-level offenses was seen in America's largest cities. Arrests for disorderly behavior, curfew violations, gambling, drunkenness, and liquor law violations were all down by more than 50%. These declines were not due to changes in policing. They also included policy changes made by state legislatures, local prosecutors offices, and city councils.Although no national data have been released for 2020, preliminary data indicates that arrests in large cities fell even more after the lockdowns of March and April 2020.In other words, there has been a shift away form broken windows policing or the false idea that aggressive policing for minor crimes deters more serious crime. What does this mean for crime in general and reports of police violence?Only 27 percent of law enforcement agencies in the country report data on police shootings, but no agency-level data has been released from the FBI's National Use-of-Force Data Collection program. The data suggests that there was a decrease in the number of low-level arrests in cities that saw a reduction in police shootings.These cases of police misconduct are rare. Instead, cities settle claims for millions of dollarsOpen data portals, media databases, and internal affairs publications allowed me to find data about fatal and non-fatal police shootings in 86 of America's largest cities. These cities saw a decrease in police shootings from 749 in 2013 to 464 in 2019, which is a 38% decrease.The largest reductions in police shootings were seen in cities like Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee that had reduced low-level arrests by at least 50 percent. These jurisdictions saw a 57 percent decrease in police shootings than in 2013. Notably, the number of police shootings in these jurisdictions was 57 percent lower than 2013's.It is possible that reducing low-level police shootings was not the only reform that could have helped. The U.S. Department of Justice initiated reforms in 12 cities during this period through consent decrees. MOAs, or the Collaborative Reform Initiative. Cities that went through these reforms, such as Newark and Baltimore, saw a greater reduction in low-level police shootings and arrests. These cities would be more likely to adopt policies to prevent unlawful, excessive, or unconstitutional arrests. They also will have to introduce new use-of force policies that limit the police's use of force.Related: What has changed since George Floyd was murdered Read more. Related: What Has Changed Since George Floyd Was Murdered Read more.It wasn't just the number of police shootings that declined. The reported crime dropped in areas that reduced low-level arrests. In fact, it was the same as cities that made higher levels of low-level police arrests. Recent research shows that cities with fewer low-level arrests didn't see an increase in violent crime or murder compared to other cities. Cities that had fewer low-level arrests didn't see a significant decrease in violent crime arrests. This suggests that a more lenient approach towards low-level crimes has not made police less responsive to serious threats to public safety.However, there is still a lot to be done. Despite all the improvements made, low-level arrests still accounted for 55 percent of all national arrests in the largest cities and 69 percent nationwide. There are still many opportunities for cities to make lower-level arrests. This could reduce police shootings without compromising public safety. Unfortunately, politics around the rise in violent crime and murder in certain American cities may make it more difficult to pass these reforms, even though they have been effective so far.Remembering George Floyd: An entire year of protestIt is unlikely that there will be any significant changes in policing.