Two Minds: What to do about Crime Rate Rise?


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The crime rate is surging. It began to rise in 2020, and continues in 2021. Daily there are multiple reports on “Next Door: Ballard” (our Seattle neighborhood) of break-ins, car thefts, and (an especially popular one) stealing packages from Amazon/UPS/USPS off people’s porches. Sometimes the latter are accompanied by videos of the culprit. What’s also interesting is how few people go on to report on a resulting interaction with police. Have people given up on calling the police? Have the police given up responding?

I bring this up because crime is likely to be an issue in the upcoming Seattle mayoral, City Attorney, and at-large Council seat elections. What will the contenders have to say about it? It will likely be an even bigger issue, unless something changes soon, in national elections, the 2022 Congressional races. The GOP can’t wait, I suspect, to play its “law and order” card.

I am of two minds on the issue. I like to think that ambivalence is a high moral ground.

Mind one. We have a hammer problem with policing. As in, “when every problem is a nail, every solution is a hammer.” We have asked the police to do too much. Or to put it another way, we send police to deal with stuff that is better dealt with by other people using other methods.

In Ezra Klein’s recent podcast, titled “Violent Crime Is Spiking: Do Liberals Have An Answer?” Ezra interviews James Foreman Jr. of Yale Law School and the author of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black AmericaIf you want to understand the nexus of policing and racial issues, this is a essential podcast. Foreman, who is a street smart prof and honest about what he doesn’t know, basically says we need more tools in our bag than just a hammer, a.k.a “aggressive policing.” He talks about a bunch of such tools that have proven effective at disrupting violence. There’s support for this kind of thing in Biden’s infrastructure bill. It is exactly the kind of thing Republicans do not count as “infrastructure.”

My other mind? At “The Dispatch” a more conservative-minded Jonah Goldberg writes a great piece about Seattle’s “CHAZ,” the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, as we come up on the one year anniversary of that — what’s the right word? — experiment, mess, failure. Goldberg spends the early part of his piece pretty much mocking “CHAZ,” as in, “I loved CHAZ. It was a spontaneous radical anarchist community that shared a nickname with the sort of blue-blazered boarding school kid who uses ‘summer’ as a verb and corrects the pronunciation of “Gstaad.”

Goldberg goes on to make a real point, namely that crime hurts the poor and the vulnerable disproportionally. “Crime hurts poor people far more than it hurts the affluent. This is true from every angle. Poor people are the victims of crime more than the non-poor.

“Writing in The Public Interest two decades ago, Eli Lehrer argued that we should think of crime as a tax, the burden of which is overwhelmingly carried by the poor:

For the 30 million or so Americans living in households earning less than $15,000 a year, crime represents a horrific fact of daily life. Compared to the middle class, the poor fall victim to nearly six times as many rapes, more than twice as many robberies, almost double the number of aggravated assaults, and half again more acts of theft. Crime is, in short, an inversely progressive tax.”

Goldberg writes about progressive cities, like Seattle, that no longer prosecute shop-lifting because that is to “criminalize poverty.” Recall the measure floated at the Seattle City Council this spring, one that would have exempted someone from criminal charges if they plead poverty or mental distress.

The result of the enlightened idea of not prosecuting shoplifting? Stores are forced out of business. High-crime areas lose stores and services, becoming “food deserts,” more hopeless and desperate than ever.

From my second-mind viewpoint, it appears that Seattle with police force reductions, leadership disarray, and political pandering is doing something like those harms to large swaths of its citizens. It didn’t used to be that there were private security people in every grocery store. Now there are. My guess is that private security is one of our largest growth industries. But the jobs are low-wage and mind-numbing.

So, how do I resolve my two-minds on this issue? It’s complicated. Per Klein and Foreman, we need more tools in our bag than a hammer, and “warrior” policing isn’t the answer. And yet, per Goldberg, tossing out the hammer in the name of progressive politics is not only not a solution; it may end up hurting the most vulnerable most of all.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. The author mixes messages here. More tools to support unsheltered people and those with addiction is sorely needed. But crime is crime and should have consequences. Our dysfunctional city council, city attorney and Mayor are at fault here. Elected new leaders will help prevent the city from its downward spiral. For more of the same re-elect Theresa Mosqueda, Brianna Thomas (Gonzalez staff member) to the city council and elect Lorena Gonzalez Mayor… Sara Nelson and Kate Martin for the two citywide positions, along with Bruce Harrell or Jesslyn Ferrell for Mayor would be a good start.

  2. Voters likely will have a chance to vote on CA 29, the Compassion Seattle proposal that — along with other mandates — calls for diversion of misdemeanor crimes like shoplifting, assault and harassment. That amounts to no jail time for those crimes if attributed to poverty, mental health or addiction. Best not to sign CA 29 and, if it gets enough signatures to make the ballot, vote “no.” We can do better than writing this thing into the charter, the city’s basic rule book.


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