Even as Violent Crime Drops, Lawlessness Rises as an Election Issue

In mid-2020, the country was reeling from a surge in violent crime and civil upheaval after the killing of George Floyd by the police — a knife’s-edge national crisis that President Donald J. Trump made a central issue in the run-up to Election Day.

Mr. Trump portrayed himself as the “law and order president” standing up to lawlessness, slamming “weak” liberals and calling demonstrators “domestic terrorists.” Joseph R. Biden Jr., who charted a centrist course on law enforcement as a senator, vice president and presidential candidate, vowed to address racial inequities in policing while standing behind the police as they battled the rising violence.

Four years later, the nation’s crime rates have shifted. The politics, however, have not budged.

Homicide rates are tumbling from pandemic highs in most cities, funding for law enforcement is rising, and tensions between the police and communities of color, while still significant, are no longer at a boiling point. But property crime, carjackings and smash-and-grab burglaries are up, adding to a sense of lawlessness, amplified on social media and local online message boards.

Mr. Trump is re-upping his blunt, visceral appeal to voter anxieties. He declared recently that “crime is rampant and out of control like never before,” promised to shoot shoplifters, embraced the “back the blue” slogan against liberal changes to police departments — and even falsely accused the F.B.I. of fabricating positive crime data to bolster Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden, in response, is taking a more low-key approach. He has spotlighted improving violent crime rates, promoted vast increases in funding to law enforcement under his watch and pointed to an aggressive push on gun control, as well as a revived effort to hold local departments accountable for discriminatory and dangerous policing practices in Black and brown neighborhoods.

Mr. Biden has pumped billions of dollars into local law enforcement, representing one of the largest federal funding increases in decades.Credit…Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

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