East vs West / Right vs Left

DeSantis vs. Newsom on Violent Crime

The Editorial Board - WSJ

California Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t running for president in 2024, at least not yet, but he has agreed to a televised Fox News debate Nov 30th next month with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. One worthy topic will be their respective economic records, but they should also spend some time on public safety.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation this week released national statistics on 2022, and the headline was that violent crime fell 1.7%, dipping back to the same level as before the pandemic. But it’s a big country, and those averages don’t tell the whole story. In California violent crime is still up 13% since 2019. In Florida it’s down 31.5%. The rate of violent crime in Mr. Newsom’s state last year, 499.5 per 100,000 people, was nearly double that in Mr. DeSantis’s domain, 258.9 per 100,000.

The nearby chart shows a longer view. Amid the Covid lockdowns, the George Floyd protests, and a public backlash toward law enforcement, violence shot up in Florida, as in many other states, though California stayed on a higher plateau. But the real difference is what happened next: in 2021 and 2022, violent crime plunged in Florida while surging in California. One caveat is that the FBI in 2021 changed its methodology for calculating crime rates, but this affected all states, so it isn’t responsible for the obvious divergence.

Mr. Newsom touts California’s strict gun-control laws, but at least a fifth of its aggravated assaults last year were committed with a knife or blunt object. Many of the state’s violent offenses are perpetrated by mentally ill or drug-addicted people living on the streets. Mr. Newsom himself was assaulted in 2021 by a homeless man in Oakland.

The FBI’s numbers on property crime add to the picture. In Florida such offenses are down 27% since 2019, about three times as much as nationwide, while in California they’re up 0.3%. Those figures likely underestimate the true difference, since businesses are less inclined to report theft to law enforcement in jurisdictions where it often goes unprosecuted.

This could be one reason that the FBI shows larceny as declining in California since 2019, despite all the news reports about retailer complaints and smash-and-grab thefts by organized criminals. California in 2014 effectively decriminalized shoplifting and larceny of less than $950. Police often don’t even bother arresting thieves, because they are quickly released. Also notable is California’s 31.3% jump in auto thefts since 2019. Last year about one in every 200 Californians had a car stolen, three times the rate in Florida and twice that of the U.S. as a whole.

A larger point is that these trend lines are not unconnected: When progressive district attorneys, such as Los Angeles County’s George Gascon, refuse to charge nonviolent crimes, it contributes to an atmosphere of disorder that can result in more bloodshed. Democrats have criticized Mr. DeSantis for removing state attorneys in Orlando and Tampa who failed to go after smaller offenses and enforce mandatory minimum sentences. Yet the Orlando prosecutor had dropped drug charges against a 19-year-old who later allegedly went on a shooting spree that killed three, including a 9-year-old girl.

Public safety is mainly the responsibility of local governments, but state policies and political pressure can also play a big role. Mr. Newsom backed California’s 2014 ballot initiative decriminalizing shoplifting and drug use, and he has done nothing to hold local officials accountable for rising crime. When he meets Mr. DeSantis next month, it would be illuminating to hear how he defends this record. Mr. Newsom isn’t running for President so far, but he is definitely auditioning to be the candidate in waiting.