The Christian Science Monitor puts some statistics behind the suspicion that in the United States the police have mostly given up on fighting real crimes and have become big vice squads:
Federal statistics reveal that the nation’s “clearance rate” — the percentage of cases for which police arrest or identify a suspect — has fallen dramatically. And this shift is fraught with implications.
The arrest clearance rate for reported homicides recently dropped to about 60 percent compared with about 90 percent 50 years ago. This means that a murderer today has about a 40 percent chance of avoiding arrest compared with less than 10 percent in . The record for other FBI Index Crimes is even more dismal: The clearance rates have sunk to 42 percent for forcible rape, 26 percent for robbery, and 13 percent for burglary and motor vehicle theft, all way down from earlier eras.
It’s not that America’s cops haven’t been making arrests — in fact, their total annual arrests jumped from 3.3 million in the nation in to 14 million in , a staggering number that helps to explain why the United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the world.
So, if reported crime has been going down and arrests have gone up, what accounts for the plummeting arrest clearance rates for murder, robbery, rape, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft?
Part of the answer must involve drug law enforcement — victimless offenses that aren’t reported to the police or included as FBI Index Crimes. Instead of arresting suspects for burglaries and other serious reported crimes, cops today spend much of their energy going after illegal drugs. Their arrest rate for drug possession (especially marijuana) has shot up more than 500 times from what it was in .
Polls show those who live in “high crime” neighborhoods are generally the most dissatisfied with the police. Maybe this is because they have reported to the police that they have been victimized by robbery and other serious crimes, then witnessed that the police are not arresting anyone for it but are instead aggressively waging a “war on drugs” in the community.
They used to say that a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. What happens when the conservative gets mugged and reports it to a yawning cop who can’t be bothered?
I’m guessing there’s some sort of bureaucratic pathology at work here. Police departments get financially rewarded both for shifting their resources to making cheap-and-easy marijuana arrests (“look at how many arrests we’re making nowadays — we need more money!”) and for failing to make arrests in more difficult non-vice crimes (“look at how many horrible crimes are going unsolved — we need more money!”) and those rewards translate into more personnel, promotions, and institutional power for the vice-squads.
But, of course, we’re part of this bureaucratic pathology, as taxpayers and citizens who don’t demand anything better: Police continue to enjoy popularity, especially in those areas where they are least rude and recklessly dangerous which, no coincidence, are also home to the most politically powerful segments of society. Americans love uniforms and authority figures and violence; cops & prison guards have the trifecta and so they’re able to successfully evade the criticisms that are commonly directed at other bloated, inept, inefficient, self-serving bureaucracies full of government-employees who are made nearly unaccountable by politically-powerful unions.