Of all the brewing threats to America's continuing economic prosperity, one of the most serious comes straight out of the police blotter. No, it's not a rise in murders or other serious felonies. In fact it's the opposite: we're seeing a significant drop in arrests for minor offenses, or "quality of life" crimes.
And it could destroy the momentum for one of the country's most powerful economic growth engines.
The trend started to take hold in New York in 2016, when the city council passed a law easing stricter arrest rules initiated during Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration in the 1990s. But these moves have now spread to cities like Seattle and Austin. And as many critics of the homeless crisis in Los Angeles and San Francisco will tell you, police in those cities have not been used to permanently crack down on the growing tent cities in those areas.
Relaxing arrest policies for minor offenses such as graffiti, petty vandalism, public urination and public transportation fare-beating are often seen as compassionate or cost-cutting. After all, the argument goes, shouldn't the cops be spending their time focusing on more serious crimes? There are even a number of fair-minded arguments and studies that say easing up on minor misdemeanor arrests won't spark new crime waves or lead to much more serious felony crimes.
Those arguments miss the point. Strictly enforcing misdemeanor crime laws or restricting quality of life offenses isn't really about reducing more serious crimes. It's about saving and resurrecting economic opportunity.
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