Concern over crime has reached the highest point in four years amid a spike in killings in big cities and an uptick in violent crime, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, and the percentage of Americans who say crime in the United States is “extremely serious” has reached its highest point in two decades.
The poll also finds that a sizable majority believe racial discrimination still exists in the country and say they hope that communities can find solutions to crime beyond putting more police officers on American streets, such as providing economic opportunities to people in low-income communities.
The poll reflects a larger debate — raging in city council chambers, activist circles and even the White House — about whether the nation can mitigate a troubling recent spike in violent crime and still make progress on the police reforms that gained momentum after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer.
A 59 percent majority of Americans believe crime is an “extremely” or “very” serious problem in the U.S., according to the Post-ABC poll, an increase from 51 percent in Gallup polling last fall and the highest level since 2017. The sentiment crosses party lines, though worries are higher among Republicans than Democrats. Anxiety about local crime is far lower but has also grown, with 17 percent saying crime in their area is extremely or very serious, up from 10 percent last fall.
Some activists who have pushed to eliminate systemic racism from the criminal justice system worry that hard-fought gains, and support for innovative approaches, will fade if anxious communities reach instead for what they see as the simplistic remedy of hiring more police.
President Biden laid out an anti-crime strategy in June, focusing on gun crime as part of an effort to stem the rise in homicides. His plan would also allow communities to use coronavirus relief funds to hire police officers or engage in other crime mitigation efforts, though he conceded in his remarks that “there is no one . . . answer that fits everything.”
Americans give Biden negative ratings for how he has handled the issue of crime, according to the poll, with 38 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving, while a sizable 14 percent offer no opinion.
The Post-ABC poll finds a 55 percent majority of Americans who say increasing funding for police departments would reduce violent crime, with views diverging sharply by party and race.
Although the data is not complete, the murder rate appeared to rise last year by double digits in many major cities, according to crime statistics compiled by the FBI, while violent crime in general increased 3 percent.
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