Why U.S. Police Are Making Fewer Arrests

April 1st 2017

Katelyn Harrop

As the number of people mobilized against police brutality has gone up, powered by footage of abuse going viral on Facebook and Twitter, the number of people that police are arresting has gone down.


According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, arrest rates took a big dip in 2013, falling 25 percent by 2015. California Attorney General’s office reporting a 50-year arrest low. Other major cities have also reported notable decreases, with New York City reporting a 66 percent drop in arrests between 2014 and 2015.

A downward trend in arrest rates is also apparent on a national level. The Bureau of Justice Statistics last reported arrests rate data was logged for 2012, but the number of arrests fell by 2 million between 2006 and 2012.

It’s impossible to pin down an exact reason for this trend. New legislation, budget changes, and justice reform may all contribute, although some — including many officers believe that increased public exposure of police brutality and resulting social mobilizations like Black Lives Matter may be behind it.

“Everyone is against whatever law enforcement is doing, so that makes an officer kind of hesitant to initiate contact,” an anonymous LAPD officer told the Los Angeles Times.  “A lot of guys will shy away from it because we’ve got the dash cams, we’ve got the body cams.… We don’t want it to come back on us.”


To some, this decrease in arrests is a cause for concern due to an increase in crime.

“Those are dramatic numbers that definitely demand scrutiny and explanation,” Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin told the Times. “If crime was dramatically down, I wouldn’t have a problem with arrests going down. But if crime is going up, I want to see arrests going up.”

According to the FBI’s Crime in the United States report, violent crime rose 3.9 percent between 2014 and 2015, while property crime dropped by 2.6 percent nationally. Overall, crime rates continue to be far below what they were a few decades ago.

Los Angeles has seen a larger increase in crime, however. According to data from the LAPD, violent crime was up 10 percent in 2016; property crime rose by 4 percent.

The LAPD has not released arrest figures for 2016. What the available data shows, however, is that a big drop in arrests has not led to a proportionate rise in crime, suggesting that we can arrest a lot less people and still be pretty safe.