Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

Police Resignations Surge as Crime Becomes Hot Campaign Issue - AdobeStock 181296179

Retirements and resignations among U.S. police officers rose dramatically over the past year. Low morale, low pay, the recent violent crime wave, and the pandemic are all driving officers out the door. (The New York Times)

NH: A survey of around 200 U.S. police departments calculated the number of officer retirements and resignations from April 2020 to 2021 and compared them with the same period one year earlier.

Conclusion: Retirements this year are up +45% and resignations are up +18%.

Officers cited low morale and the sense that their cities did not support them as a key reason for their departures. Cities where racial justice protests have been robust have seen some of biggest losses: In New York, 2,600 officers retired in 2020, compared to 1,509 retirements the year before.

In Portland, 144 officers resigned or retired from April 2020 to April 2021, up from just 41 the previous year. In mid- and smaller-size cities, some of the exoduses were stunning. More than a third of the police force in Asheville, NC left.

Even before the protests, many police departments were struggling with low morale among officers who felt like they were asked to do too much. Departing officers also cited the pandemic, which required them to bear the additional risk of infection, along with budget cuts triggered by declining local tax revenue.

For those who have rallied behind calls to defund the police, shrinking police forces may come as welcome news. But there’s a problem: The shrinkage coincides with a surge in violent crime. (See “Homicides Spiked in 2020.”)

The crime spike has put Democrats in a tough spot. When the crime rate is declining, as I’ve pointed out before, the public feels generous about restricting police discretion in order to protect civilians. But when it's rising, the public's mood quickly shifts back to demanding “law and order.” (See “America’s Rising Crime Rate.”)

Democrats who pushed strenuously for changes to policing over the past year now find themselves emphasizing "public safety"--a curious euphemism alluding to revolutionary fervor. President Biden, along with the congressional black caucus, has never supported the defund movement. And just earlier this week, the president called for increased police funding.

Democrats have good reason to worry. According to academic studies, the George Floyd protests may have marginally helped Biden’s vote share in precincts where they were peaceful. But when they turned violent or criminal, they clearly hurt his share.

This explains, for example, why an electoral model that predicts the 2020 results accurately throughout the rest of Wisconsin overpredicted Biden's share in Kenosha--the location of violent protests--by 2.4 percentage points. And in our current electoral landscape, that margin can easily make a difference between winning and losing.

One of the academic social scientists who pointed this out is Omar Wasow at Princeton, who caused a stir in progressive circles last year with a major study attributing the crack-up of "Great Society" liberalism largely to a wave of crime and urban riots in the late '60s.

His detailed examination of national voting at the precinct level shows that, there again, Democrats underperformed precisely where the violence occurred. As a result, he concludes, the Republicans made major gains in Congress in 1966 and Richard Nixon squeaked into the White House in 1968.

All this is music to the ears of the GOP, who plan to make the crime surge and police funding their central message in the midterms. Already, polls show that public concern about crime is growing; it’s now the highest it’s been since 2017.

Only 38% of Americans approve of how Biden is handling crime, while 48% disapprove.

At the same time, neither party has a clear edge in terms of policy: 35% of Americans trust the Democrats to handle crime better, while 36% trust Republicans more.

Police Resignations Surge as Crime Becomes Hot Campaign Issue - July16

The recent victory of Eric Adams, an ex-police captain, in New York’s mayoral primary race has instilled new urgency into the Democrats’ effort to overhaul their crime message.

But the reality remains that the Republicans are unified in their talking points, and the Democrats aren’t. Biden is hoping his new plan can reassure voters worried by crime and thereby protect his party from the anticipated attack-ad onslaught.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.