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Pro-Police, Tough-On-Crime Democrats Are Making A Comeback. Here’s Why

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  • The rise in crime has fueled the return of pro-police Democratic candidates throughout the country, experts said.
  • “I think that progressives have to recognize that it is a politically potent issue,” said JMC Analytics founder John Couvillon. “That isn’t just a taste of only Republican voters being concerned.”
  • “Defunding the police was never a popular position and the choice to put it front center by many activist groups is, I think, an error for which they have continued to pay at the polls,” Charles Lehman, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute working on policing and public safety, said. 

Democratic politicians running on tough-on-crime platforms are making names for themselves in many prominent races, and some have even won elections in deep-blue cities drowning in violent crime.

As of Thursday afternoon, billionaire and former Republican Rick Caruso, who made combating crime and homelessness the cornerstone of his campaign, secured the greatest portion of the vote in the Los Angeles mayoral race with 42.1%. He will face off against Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, who received 37% of the vote, in a November runoff.

“I do believe that the crime issue is something that also has resonance on the Democratic side and that’s why you have officeholders like Eric Adams, who are staking out a different political path, and there is a constituency for that,” JMC Analytics founder John Couvillon told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Current New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, won the Democratic primary in 2021 on a pro-police, tough-on-crime platform. During his tenure, Adams brought back a specialized police unit to fight gun violence after it was previously disbanded in 2020 in response to the George Floyd protests, The New York Times reported.

Across the country, Democratic Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell entered office in January after a campaign focused on gun crimes, organized theft and open-air drug sales, The Seattle Medium reported. In February, he said his administration would “not tolerate crime in Seattle,” citing increases in violent crime and gun violence between 2020 and 2021.

Down in deep-blue California, voters turned against Chesa Boudin, a former deputy public defender who became district attorney of San Francisco in 2019. He overwhelmingly lost his recall election Tuesday after implementing a number of criminal justice reforms, such as eliminating cash bail, that were widely blamed for increased lawlessness in the city.

“I think that progressives have to recognize that it is a politically potent issue,” Couvillon said. “That isn’t just a taste of only Republican voters being concerned.”

The rise in crime over the past few years includes a nationwide increase in the violent crime rate by 5.6% between 2019 to 2020. Couvillon described the issue as “cyclical,” comparing it to the crime wave of the 1990s, which resulted in Republican mayors in both New York City and Los Angeles.

“What was going on back in the early 90s was you had kind of the same mentality that you have today,” he said. “So, I see it is a trend, but I think that right now, it’s kind of a reaction against what has been happening in the last couple years.”

Charles Lehman, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute working on policing and public safety, told TheDCNF the movement to “defund the police,” which some Democrats embraced in the wake of the George Floyd protests, tied the party to an incredibly unpopular position as crime increased.

“Defunding the police was never a popular position and the choice to put it front and center by many activist groups is, I think, an error for which they have continued to pay at the polls and will continue to pay at the polls until a sufficient number of Democrats repudiate it,” Lehman said.

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told TheDCNF that the “white liberal” block of the party was the largest portion of anti-police Democrats. He said the block was “not the types of voters who are going to get the power to a majority and they’re not even a majority in some of these urban areas either.”

“I think a lot of voters want to feel safe,” Coleman said. “They’re not on board with defunding the police.”

Bass, for her part, has said the phrase was “probably one of the worst slogans ever” and that she would transfer 250 Los Angeles police officers out of desk jobs and into patrol, the Los Angeles Times reported. Her campaign website, however, states that community organizations and trained experts, as opposed to police, should be given resources to deal with the root causes of crime.

While Lehman said Democrats have begun to repudiate the movement, such as when President Joe Biden spoke out against it during his State of the Union address, he emphasized the party had not done enough.

Biden has implemented measures intended to reform policing, such as through a May executive order intended to “advance effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices,” but has largely steered away from taking away funds.

“It’s kind of a mess,” he said. “They aren’t able to enforce message discipline. At the local level, it’s very patchwork. Cities have implemented a variety of changes, many of them massively unpopular.”

Couvillon said it might be too late for Democrats to shake the strong association they have with the defund the police movement.

“The contradiction of the term defund the police is something that really should have happened early on in the summer of 2020,” he said.

“What was happening in the summer of 2020 started with protests, but there were aspects of it where there was violence,” Couvillon said. “And so that’s where I think you do have this constituency, even within the Democratic Party, that recognizes that we have to have limits as to what type of behavior’s acceptable.”

Representatives for Adams, Bass, Boudin and Caruso did not return TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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