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Crime / Leadership / Municipal government / Policies / Urban development

Can big city mayors actually do anything about crime?

It may sound unfulfilling, but crime seems affected by big national trends beyond their control. Diplomacy and investments are tools they do have, now.

Can mayors really do anything about crime? ( Wink/made with Midjourney)

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Can local elected officials do anything about crime?

I don’t ask that as a stinging criticism, but rather a way to explain what we know. I’ve been a local business and economics journalist for 15 years, and quality of life issues are always part of the mix, so this is something I report on.

Big city mayors are a lot more constrained in their duties than we think. Most of a city’s budget is non-discretionary — it goes to things like pensions. And crime patterns generally are things we still don’t understand perfectly. A lot of specific policing strategies don’t appear to affect a community’s crime rate as much as how young a population is and what the unemployment rate is; the availability of guns and educational attainment.

Now those are key issues to address, but they go beyond a mayoral jurisdiction. So in this way, I’m pretty sympathetic to elected officials. They need to appear to be doing something, even if their smartest policy folks know their limitations.

There are two ways I understand mayors can actually address crime. Both are harder than press conferences.

First, as CEO of their cities, mayors can see crime, community and policing as a personnel issue. They and their representatives have to strike a balance between maintaining law enforcement support and credibility within neighborhoods to work together. Piss off all the cops, and they pull back. Be too pro-cop and the worst elements tend to increase. A former Philadelphia police veteran just published an essay blaming recruitment as a key contribution to a spike in crime, encouraging more top-level support just as community groups advocate for the opposite. That’s hard.

The second way is harder. Mayors have to look well beyond their terms. Improving early education, attracting and growing jobs and symbolizing the best of their cities are all investments today that can shape crime in the future.

So, can local elected officials affect crime? Yes, but not in time for Election Day.


Can local elected officials actually affect crime? It’s actually a lot less clear an answer than you think. #crime #local #politics

♬ original sound – Chris Wink

Series: Every Voice, Every Vote

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