Liberal big-city mayors who raced to jump on the “defund the police” bandwagon are now scrambling to jump off amid signs of a furious voter backlash over rising crime.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed became the latest official to execute an abrupt about-face, announcing Tuesday a public safety initiative that includes emergency police funding after moving last year to cut $120 million from the law enforcement budget.
“It’s time that the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” Ms. Breed said at a press conference. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bulls—— that has destroyed our city.”
The mayor’s tough talk on crime was a sharp contrast with her June 2020 initiative to shift funding from the police department to social services and reduce “overpolicing of the Black community.”
Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said the move to deploy more officers was “an acknowledgment that the push to defund the SFPD was a mistake.”
A year after mass Black Lives Matter protests prompted Democrats to take up the “defund the police” mantra, law enforcement has regained popularity as major U.S. cities wrestle with a rise of smash-and-grab robberies and notch their highest homicide rates in decades.
“We are getting vertigo with all these changes of hearts from the defunders,” said Tom Saggau, a spokesperson for the San Francisco police union.
Democratic-run cities rushing to restore police funding to address crime spikes include Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Seattle, the District of Columbia and Oakland, California, much to the disgust of far-left activists.
The People’s Budget LA, a coalition led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, denounced the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of a $39 million increase for police in June. Last month, the police commission approved a $213 million raise, a 12% increase from last year.
“This is not a ‘justice budget’ as the mayor calls it. This is yet another police state budget,” the liberal coalition said in a statement.
Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said Democratic mayors’ reversal on police defunding should come as no surprise as public safety moves to the top of voters’ priority lists.
“In many cases for mayors, it’s a question of political survival,” Mr. Pasco told The Washington Times.
Fueling the law-and-order demands are shocking video clips of brazen thefts, including the ransacking last month of a Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square, by seemingly organized mobs of looters.
“Those mayors who’ve allowed a vocal minority to suggest that policing isn’t necessary, or policing is unjust and unfair, who’ve allowed that to become part of the local political consensus, have quickly learned that in a vacuum, without public safety personnel available to address misdeeds, those misdeeds are going to multiply exponentially,” Mr. Pasco said.
A Rasmussen Reports poll released Wednesday found that 89% of likely U.S. voters are concerned about the wave of violent crime, including 69% who are “very” concerned.
That percentage represents a significant increase from July, when 79% said they were concerned, including 49% who were very concerned.
“The polling data reflects that police popularity or public approval has increased dramatically,” Mr. Pasco said. “Those politicians who were less than enthusiastic about supporting the police prior to the times of crisis either have to play catch-up or they fall by the wayside.”
A Pew Research survey released Oct. 26 said 47% of those polled supported increased funding for their local police, a jump from 31% in June 2020. Just 15% said law enforcement budgets should be reduced.
The public opinion shift has already translated to the ballot box. In Seattle, Republican Ann Davison stunned the Democratic political establishment by winning the city attorney’s race on a law-and-order platform. She was the first Republican to win a city position in more than a decade.
In Portland, Oregon, the center of Antifa unrest, the City Council last month approved an additional $7 million for public safety, including $5.2 million for police, a month after surpassing the annual record of 70 homicides set in 1987.
In Minneapolis, voters rejected by 56% to 44% a ballot measure last month that would have replaced the police department with a Department of Public Safety.
Minneapolis bore the brunt of Black Lives Matter protests and rioting after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.
The City Council reacted by slashing $8 million from the police budget. In 2020, violent crime surged in Minnesota, with the state recording 185 homicides, breaking the record of 183 set in 1995, including 82 in Minneapolis, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Minneapolis and St. Paul increased their police budgets this year. Leading the push to recruit police as they left the department in droves was Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who confronted the “defund the police” drive when he introduced his budget in August.
“Following the murder of George Floyd, Minneapolis became ground zero in the debate around the future of public safety and a case study in the dangers of grand pronouncements with little planning,” Mr. Frey said.
Not happy with the direction was outgoing City Council President Lisa Bender, a pioneer in the movement to enact “alternatives to policing.”
“It seems this budget is intended to send a heartbreaking political message that nothing has changed in Minneapolis since the murder of George Floyd,” Ms. Bender said in a Dec. 10 report on Fox9.
John Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College politics professor, chalked up the hairpin reversal to Democratic “damage limitation.”
“Last year, smart Democrats such as Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) immediately recognized the political danger of the ‘defund the police’ slogan,” Mr. Pitney wrote in an email. “But it took time for the realization to sink into the rest of the party. If Democratic mayors can bring down the surge in high-profile crimes, they can take some of the edge off the issue.”
That said, he added that “crime will still be a topic in the 2022 elections, and it still tends to favor the GOP.”
Indeed, the law-and-order issue has been partially credited with the Republican victories in the Nov. 2 off-year election, led by Glenn Youngkin’s unexpected win in the Virginia governor’s race.
Republican National Committee deputy press secretary Will O’Grady said Thursday that “Americans know that Biden and Democrats have failed and our communities across the country are less safe as a result.”
“We’re seeing Democrat mayors who defunded the police decide to reverse their actions as crime rates have skyrocketed because of their failed policies. Republicans will continue to be the party that keeps our communities safe and supports our brave men and women in law enforcement,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Wednesday that the “outrageous” crime surge “must be stopped.” She did not mention the liberal policies, such as reducing police budgets and eliminating or reducing cash bail.
“Obviously, it cannot continue. But the fact [is] that there is an attitude of lawlessness in our country that springs from I don’t know where,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Even with cities moving to refund their police budgets, it may take years or perhaps decades to bring departments back to their pre-2020 status, given the exodus of officers after last year’s protests, Mr. Pasco said.
“Tremendous damage has been done to the law enforcement profession, and it may well take generations to repair all of the damage,” Mr. Pasco said. “Recruiting has become extraordinarily difficult. To find qualified individuals who are willing to become police officers with all of the hardships that accrue to that is becoming extraordinarily difficult.”
In San Francisco, an estimated 250 officers have left in the past two years through retirement, resignation or release, putting the department about 500 officers short of its authorization level.
Recruitment for the San Francisco Police Department has been “abysmal, as it has for most other agencies,” Mr. Saggau said.
“Police academies are slated for 50-55 cadets per academy,” he said. “The 274th, slated to graduate in February of 2022, has only 14, and the next one, 275th, slated to graduate in June of 2022, has only 19. There is a washout rate of 20-25% after graduation from academy for those that do not make it through field training.”
Other public safety issues include the advent of liberal prosecutors pushing social justice agendas in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
Ms. Breed took a not-so-veiled swipe at San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who faces a recall in June, at last week’s press event.
After praising “the hard work that our police officers and sheriff deputies are putting in,” she put the ball firmly in the DA’s court.
“Now, it’s critical that our entire criminal justice system holds these individuals accountable when arrests are made,” Ms. Breed said. “We need everyone to get on board, not just cops and frontline workers, but prosecutors and the courts as well. Our residents should not see the same criminals back on the streets of the Tenderloin again and again, in an endless cycle of fear and frustration.”
• Emily Zantow contributed to this report.