What happens when you combine a crime wave with today’s means of misinformation? Political trouble.

My daughter in Brooklyn just witnessed an increasingly common crime she had heard about. A man strode into a large drugstore, emptied a shelf of toilet paper into a big garbage bag and walked out to a waiting car. No one tried to stop him or even report it.

The (lone) store security officer said they are short-staffed and don’t want violence, the general excuses citywide. He said such thieves seem to be homeless men who will do anything for a few dollars. Organized crime tells them what to steal and pays them as it sells the goods onward to a respectable outlet.

It’s only a matter of time before rampant thievery turns violent. Its scope will climb up the value ladder, thieves will start carrying guns, and police and citizens will try to stop them. This could revive New York’s deadly crime wave of earlier decades.

I was working for AP in New York in 1968. After Martin Luther King was assassinated, youths smashed shop windows to grab valuables. I remember seeing in midtown one night an enraged cop point his gun at a Black youth, ready to shoot. I remember walking across an upper West Side street corner where someone had been stabbed to death earlier that day.

Now it could be worse. Amplified by social media, exaggerated scare stories, many with racist themes, will sweep the country. That could get Donald Trump re-elected in 2024. Or launch a stronger, smarter demagogue. Let’s head this off before it happens.

Some immediate steps can be taken. When lots of, say, toilet paper is stolen, stores could drop its price, undercutting what the gangster rings can charge for it. Any outlet with sudden, abundant stocks of toilet paper should be interrogated as to its suppliers. Some respectable retailers could get awfully embarrassed. All this will take more police and better coordination.

New York’s presumed next mayor, former police captain Eric Adams, says the city is “out of control.” Former mayor Michael Bloomberg supports him, thus cementing ties to the business community. Adams is set to take office January 1 but should announce some anti-crime plans now. Would he, for example, restore a stop-and-frisk policy? It could be politer, non-racial, and focus on people carrying large garbage bags.

If Adams gets on top of this, he could go much farther than mayor. “He knows how to fight crime” could be a powerful message in 2024 or 2028. And Mayor de Blasio, in his final months, could be jolted into action and borrow some policies from Adams. With no serious Democratic steps, Republicans will seize the issue.

Gun sales and crimes, including murder, shot up last year. The pandemic surely contributes to spikes in violence. Excluded from schools and jobs, restless young men find outlets in violence. Perhaps when COVID passes, the crime wave will recede, but we can’t count on that happening soon.

Handguns purchased for household protection often end up killing household members. Second Amendment absolutists argue that more armed citizens decrease crime. Evidence supports the opposite, but more states will likely adopt open-carry laws like Texas, and more lead will fly, hitting innocent people.

Telephone and online scams, some of them from overseas, are unchecked, facing little or nothing to fear from law enforcement. Some platforms may respond to your outcries by suspending scammers, but they can’t arrest anybody. Congress is paralyzed in the face of all this. Phone companies and social media are too rich and powerful to offend.

One new scam: An email notifies you that your expensive purchase — say, a $1,300 computer — has been charged to your PayPal account and is on its way. Of course, you ordered nothing of the sort, so you quickly call the number provided to protest. The “seller” apologizes and says he’ll credit you immediately. For this, he needs your PayPal, credit card and banking numbers. Simplest safeguard: Regard anyone you don’t know who contacts you as crooked. Do not respond.

Nixon’s “law and order” message helped him win in 1968, and we are starting to hear it again. Democrats, if not tough enough on crime, could hand Republicans a decisive issue. There were already worries in 2020 that “defund the police” — the calls of a few radicals — cut back projected Democratic gains. Black people, crime’s biggest victims, overwhelmingly oppose defunding police.

The crime problem parallels that of squalid camps on our border. If you’re tough, as in expelling migrants back to Haiti or Mexico, liberals accuse you of inhumane cruelty. If you’re humane, as in letting them stay until their cases are heard, Republicans accuse you of granting them asylum. Which hurts you more in an election? Better to head off Republican accusations.