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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde May 28, 2021

Facebook post makes unproven claim about police funding and homicides

If Your Time is short

  • Homicides rates have gone up in the seven places highlighted in the post.

  • But a link between higher homicide rates to police budget cuts has not been proven.

  • A proper evaluation of budget changes and their impact on crime would require a study that controls for multiple factors that influence criminal activity, including poverty and joblessness.

A Facebook post shows a chart of "skyrocketing murder rates" in major U.S. cities and suggests that’s a result of cities "defunding" police departments.

"How’s all that defunding going you knuckleheads," said the caption of the May 26 Facebook post. The chart said it was comparing year-to-date homicides in 2021 compared with 2020. It lists as its source "department data" and says the data is as of May 25, 2021.

The post claims the following murder rate increases:

  • Philadelphia, 40%

  • Minneapolis, 56%

  • Portland, 800%

  • New York City, 22%

  • Chicago, 22%

  • Los Angeles, 27%

  • Washington, D.C., 35%

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post gets this point right: Homicide is up in all seven places (though some of the percentages it listed were imprecise). That is clear. What’s less clear is whether that crime increase is exclusively the result of changes in police budgets. If there is a direct link, it hasn’t been proven yet. 

Featured Fact-check

Criminologists caution against oversimplification and emphasize the value of studying the topic carefully and with sufficient data, not just short-term numbers.

A proper evaluation of budget changes and their impact on crime would require a study that controls for multiple factors that influence criminal activity, Charis E. Kubrin, a criminologist at the University of California, Irvine, previously told PolitiFact. Those factors include poverty, joblessness, drugs, gangs, guns, housing insecurity and demographic shifts, she said.

"These comparisons of crime increases with reductions in police budget or personnel are strictly anecdotal. ...They are at best correlations between crime changes and policing. They say nothing about whether or how the changes to policing caused the crime changes," said Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis expert on crime trends. He talked to us when we examined a similar argument made by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In 2020, several cities across the nation, including the ones mentioned in the Facebook post, reduced or redistributed police funding for fiscal year 2021 as they grappled with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic plus activists’ calls to "defund the police." In some cases, cities reduced police funding by not filling vacant positions, eliminating funding earmarked for overtime pay, or transferring duties from the police department to other departments. They did not abolish police departments or cancel their entire budgets.

Cities start their fiscal years at different times; some of the budget changes began in the summer or fall of 2020, others began in January. Some places are still in the process of shifting money from their respective police departments.

Also, homicides were already up in 2020, before cities decided to change their budgets, and cities that did not cut police budgets have also seen homicides go up.

Nationwide, murder went up every quarter of 2020 compared with the respective quarters in 2019, according to preliminary FBI data.

It’s possible that crime increases are the result of the "social disorganization" caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, recently told us.

Social disorganization involves a weakening of the basic bonds of social control, such as good employment and stable families, he said.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed that police budget cuts are to blame for "skyrocketing murder rates" in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Portland, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The statement contains an element of truth: Homicides are up in these cities and police funding is down. But it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, including the details of numerous other potential contributing factors, such as poverty, joblessness and housing insecurity, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, the claim implies that there is a direct link between defunding and homicide rates that has not yet been established.

The post oversimplifies a complex issue that requires further study, beyond just looking at the raw numbers.

We rate this Mostly False.

Our Sources

PolitiFact, Ron DeSantis’ misleading claim about crime, police funding, May 4, 2021

Philadelphia Police Department, Crime Maps & Stats, weekly reports, up to May 23, 2021

Minneapolis Police Department, Citywide crime data, up to May 26, 2021

Portland Police Bureau, Crime statistics, up to April 2021

New York City Police Department, citywide crime statistics, up to May 16, 2021
Chicago Police Department, citywide crime data, up to May 2, 2021

Los Angeles Police Department, citywide crime data, up to May 22, 2021

Metropolitan Police Department, District Crime Data at a Glance, as of 12 a.m. May 27, 2021

Portland Police Bureau Budget Details and ChangesFY 2019-20 and FY 2020-21

Washington Post, D.C. activists and lawmakers confront challenges of ‘defund police’ movement, June 25, 2020

City of Chicago, 2021 Budget Overview

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More by Miriam Valverde

Facebook post makes unproven claim about police funding and homicides

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