Fear of crime and lawlessness are growing across the country


As this year ends and a new one begins, I wonder about the collective angst we are all feeling these days. There is an underlying tension and concern about our everyday safety and security  — a feeling that lawlessness, disorder, and disdain for the rule of law are increasing.

We are watching the news feeds every day and each day seeing something that adds to our collective angst.

Smash and grab robberies where sometimes dozens of people rush into stores and steal merchandise are the latest crime trend. In one particularly blatant example, a group of at least 90 people in 25 vehicles ran amok in a Nordstrom store. Thousands of dollars in merchandise were stolen in just minutes. The robbery was allegedly organized and planned on social media.

Probably hundreds of people were part of the chatter, but no one thought it warranted notifying the authorities. 

Follow-home robberies have also captured our attention. Repeatedly we’ve watched surveillance footage of people being accosted on their doorstep and robbed of their possessions. You can imagine the feelings they must be experiencing as the sanctity of their home is violated, like they’ll never feel safe again.

Robberies just aren’t occurring at homes. Across the country people dining on outdoor patios have been accosted and robbed, in upscale areas of Los Angeles and the suburbs of Orange County, CA. In one tragic case, an off-duty New Orleans police officer was killed while he dined with relatives in Houston, TX. In that case, two suspects were later arrested. Both were out on bond for weapons and robbery offenses.

Then there is the unexpected and unexplained rise in homicides across the country. While Chicago has been the focus of much of the attention, people are being killed in record numbers in Tucson, AZ; Albuquerque, NM; and Austin, TX. These are all cities where one doesn’t really think of crime being out of control.

The FBI annual Uniform Crime Report revealed a 30 percent increase in murders in 2020 — the largest one-year jump since they have been keeping records. The upward trend is continuing across the country. Data from individual agencies shows that a significant portion of the increase is gang related.

Pew Research Graphic Murder Rate Rising

Closer to home are the package thefts, car burglaries, and general disorder we are seeing every day in our neighborhoods.  Many of these are captured on home surveillance cameras and shared with the community.

Adding to our concern is a general feeling of justice not being served. The package thief is arrested and receives a citation. Car theft is now a misdemeanor in many jurisdictions. Crime victims and the community at large are left wondering if breaking the law really has no consequences.

The list of causation factors stirs a lot of debate. Bail reform, decriminalization, the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic economy, and even de-policing are touted as creating the conditions that have allowed the feelings of disorder and lawlessness to grow.

Scholars and public policy makers can debate and argue all they want but it does little to address public angst. Right now, a lot of us do not feel safe and wonder what our leaders are going to do ensure our collective safety and security.

We all agree that one of the most important roles of government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. Our law enforcement agencies bear the brunt of leading these efforts. After several years of being battered, berated, and vilified, the men and women of law enforcement are now being asked to step up their game. 

It won’t be easy.

Police agencies have been hampered by low morale, depleted ranks, and challenges in recruiting. Agencies are also having to work to rebuild trust in some communities. Oftentimes these are the communities where people feel the least safe and secure.

I have faith that law enforcement will rise to the occasion and do their best.

Why do I feel this way?

Because I know cops, and the cops I know are professional, have integrity, and most of all are driven by a desire to serve. Working collaboratively with the communities they serve, law enforcement can help us all feel safer.