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Corrections Has Limits
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 08/26/2019

Prison guard handcuffs Highlights

Cops are not there to solve society’s problems. The pressure from citizens, communities, media, advocates and politicians are simply too much for most law enforcement agencies to handle.

In essence, society is cheap. It wants everything but is unwilling to pay for it.

Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Aspiring drummer.


Law enforcement and the rest of the criminal justice system have limits that few are willing to acknowledge. Examples: Corrections: Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide involved severe understaffing at the federal detention facility where he was housed. The federal Bureau of Prisons was understaffed at this facility and many others, FederalTimes.

Law Enforcement: Much of the debate over police use of force involves being placed into situations where officers have little training. The fundamental question is whether cops should respond at all.

Response to suicides, from The Crime Report (direct quotes):

The Plumas County, Ca., Sheriff’s office refused to respond to a report of a man hanging himself in the garage because the situation could end as a “suicide by cop.” Some small and midsize law enforcement agencies across the state have stopped responding to certain calls because of the potential dangers to both officers and the person attempting to end his or her life. They also present a financial liability from lawsuits, especially if the situation turns violent, the Los Angeles Times reports. Other departments use “disengagement” strategies that allow them to leave calls without confronting someone in crisis. These tactics are used most often when the person is alone and does not present a threat to anyone else, and no crime is being committed.

“In too many instances, we show up and further aggravate a crisis situation,” Plumas County Sheriff-Coroner Greg Hagwood said. “And then, in the end, bad things happen.” Some fear that, as police stand down, civilians will be left to handle potentially dangerous situations alone. Hagwood and others in law enforcement say the profession must examine its legal and moral obligations in an era when use of force is under intense scrutiny and there is pressure to curtail deadly police incidents. The fear of encountering a suicide by cop event — when a person takes actions, such as brandishing a weapon, that prompt officers to use deadly force — is worrying. In a 2009 study of more than 700 officer-involved shootings nationwide, 36 percent of incidents were determined to be attempts at provoking officers to use deadly force. Critics say “suicide by cop” too often is used to justify police violence. In the 2009 study, researchers found police killed the suicidal person more than half of the time and injured the person in 40 percent of encounters.

Are We Asking Too Much?

Few are willing to acknowledge that we are losing cops at an alarming rate and that recruitment is becoming more difficult than ever, Boston Globe.

Policing changes the personalities of cops. PTSD, suicides (nine in New York City this year), depression and drug and alcohol use are common. Proactive interactions (self-initiated stops) are down, Crime in America.

As a cop, my first call for a domestic violence case (neighbors called the police) involved two people married for over twenty years. I was twenty-one and never married. I knew little about married life and there were no obvious signs of injury and both insisted that they were not willing to press charges. “Why the hell am I here?” I thought. “I don’t have a clue as to resolving marriage issues.”

I had the same feelings about arguments between neighbors, kids in crisis, drug overdoses, fights in schools, major medical calls and dozens of additional cases. I wasn’t trained as a social worker or a paramedic but most of my calls involved just that.

I had a dispute where someone blocked access to a neighbors driveway. One threatened bodily harm unless the car was removed. I spoke to both for over thirty minutes while calls were backing up. Everybody was unhappy with my efforts to resolve the situation peacefully, from superiors to the participants to the people waiting for me to arrive.

There Is No State of The Art

Understanding the criminal justice system means coming to grips with the fact that there is no state of the art where all 18,000 police agencies and over a million law enforcement professionals (including non-sworn personal) turn to for guidance. It’s the same for corrections and the judiciary. Agencies are left to their own analysis of scarce data as to how to proceed.

Many of the calls that end in violence come from citizen, community, media, advocates and political demands for action, Police Research. Daniel Pantaleo, the fired New York City police officer seen on video using a chokehold during Eric Garner’s deadly arrest five years ago, was there because of business and community insistence.

The arrest order of Garner by a superior was issued because this part of Staten Island—near the ferry docks—was the subject of repeated complaints about illegal street vendors diverting customers from shops and even selling drugs. The spot at which the Garner arrest took place had been the site of at least 98 arrests, 100 criminal court summonses, 646 calls to 911, and nine complaints to 311 in 2014 alone. Garner had had at least three previous encounters with police that year; he had been arrested twice and given a warning. At the time of the fatal incident, he was free on bail for offenses including selling untaxed cigarettes, driving without a license, marijuana possession, and impersonation, City Journal.

So we have an almost impossible situation where the data offers little and priorities are set by people who have never been cops and are influenced by what they see on television dramas.

The same applies to corrections where we insist on making inmates “better” but the data on rehabilitation programs routinely show incredibly high rearrest and reincarceration rates, Nothing Works.

Cops Can’t Fix Everything

Per President Obama (direct quotes): We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. And when anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting harm to police, even if they don’t act on it themselves — well, they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote, The White House. We ask police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves.

So law enforcement agencies aren’t responding to select suicide calls because they are afraid of more police-related violence accusations? Does that surprise anyone?

It’s the same with an endless number of additional calls; burglaries and other thefts and minor car accidents are not investigated because there are more important things to respond to.

Law enforcement has said as much for decades insisting that cops who have little training in social work should not respond to every call involving a potential crisis.

Create a sufficient number of social workers to be on call and let them respond to mental health cases or suicide calls or domestic incidents or rowdy kids on street corners or parents who can’t control their kids or school incidents.

Cops should not be first responders to all of society’s ills. If there is the potential for violence to others, yes, let officers respond. But once the chance for violence has subsided, let the social workers go in and do their job.

As to crime control, it’s criminology 101 that the communities control crime, cops are there as a stabilizing force, Communities Need To Do More. It’s time to stop asking cops to do the jobs of citizens and communities, NBC News.


If we have problems in policing, much of it can be blamed on ridiculously unrealistic expectations we have of cops and the rest of the justice system.

Want less police violence? Stop sending cops into situations where they don’t belong. Want more crime control? Then start demanding that communities do more. Want more from corrections? Then provide the money for research and effective programs.

Cops are not there to solve society’s problems. The pressure from citizen, community, media, advocates and political demands are simply too much for most law enforcement agencies to handle.

In essence, cops have known this for decades but without an effective research base and national guidelines as to the best use of law enforcement personnel, it all goes down the tubes because of community, media, and political pressure.

In essence, society is cheap. It wants everything but is unwilling to pay for it.

If you want to stop the exodus of cops and correctional personal, train and pay them well and stop asking them to be all things to all people.

As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Suicide quotes first offered in The Crime Report: https://thecrimereport.org/

Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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