|Is Crime Control Dead?
|By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Part of a series of articles to understand society’s reactions to police shootings, use of force, and to seek solutions. I will “try” to see both sides of the issue knowing that neither will see my critiques favorably.
We are currently in a heated national debate regarding race, cops, bail, incarceration, arrest policies, stops, and actions on the part of the justice system. Some demand a revision of current practices, especially as they apply to police use of force. The justice system gets this; things have to change, Defunding The Police-What Cops Support.
But crime control seems to be completely absent from the discussions.
Cops understand that the use of force on the part of some range from wrong to criminal, but they insist that most do not unlawfully abuse anyone.
The larger discussion seems to be focused on “all” cops and it’s causing “all” officers to be overly cautious. Many (most?) are no longer being proactive. There is evidence that cops are leaving and recruitment is rapidly diminishing.
Violence increases when cops do nothing more than to respond to calls. No one knows the magic formula as to how many proactive stops are necessary to reduce crime but, according to US Department of Justice data, proactivity reduces crime, Police Strategies. If cops are now afraid to be appropriately aggressive, it impacts everyone.
Violence Is A Pandemic
During my collegiate studies, the emphasis was understanding that crime (and signs of disorder) created immense problems. Crime caused people to move. No one was interested in living in or moving to dangerous areas. Employment, investment, education, tourism, economic development, and community well-being were all at risk.
Violence caused victims enormous emotional and financial distress. Crime literally destroyed lives.
Violence was the equivalent of a pandemic. Whatever our role in the justice system, crime was suppressed or residents would be forever held back from safety and prosperity.
Social Initiatives Won’t Reduce Crime
People want law enforcement agencies defunded so more money can go into social services. The problem is that there is very limited to no evidence that social initiatives have any impact on violence.
Advocates may firmly believe that social programs reduce crime, but if you go to the federal government’s CrimeSolutions.Gov, the evidence of social initiatives having an impact is iffy to nonexistent. Offering services to poor or marginalized people or those in need is necessary, right, and just.
But social service provision won’t reduce crime. Look at the research regarding treatment programs for offenders. Per US Department of Justice funded data, most offender rehabilitation programs don’t reduce crime, and when they do, the reductions are small, meaning most fail, Criminal Rehabilitation Programs.
Arrest Policies Change
From my introduction to the justice system as a cop, I was told that crime prevention or control was “the” priority. But arrests for all crimes wasn’t desired.
As a cop decades ago, we were told to make limited but good arrests. Judicious arrests meant that we were available for crimes in progress, horrible accidents, and lost kids. We sent many drinking and driving cases home in a cab. We didn’t arrest all participants of domestic violence calls. We took most juveniles home to their parents. We didn’t arrest for marijuana possession. We rarely gave out a speeding ticked for less than fifteen miles over the limit.
However, when we did arrest, we got convictions because of a reputation for “reasonableness.” The thought was that the state’s attorney would take your cases seriously because you only brought good arrests to court. Gaining convictions and incarcerations based on the severity of the crime (and his criminal history) was our definition of crime suppression. The bulk of crime has always been related to highly active offenders.
Sometimes the best arrests came from proactivity.
We need to understand that arrest policies change from decade to decade. Going back to good arrests may be in our best interest.
Communities Demanded Action
I went to a multitude of community meetings where residents demanded that cops “do something” about crime and disorder. We were told that residents didn’t care how we did it, just get the troublemakers out of the community.
The justice system responded through enhanced police patrols, multiple stops of people and vehicles, arrests, and incarcerations.
I was pulled over in a black neighborhood in an unmarked state vehicle when I was the director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety. The officer apologized when I showed him my identification. He stated that the community wanted outsiders stopped because they were coming into the neighborhood to buy drugs. I didn’t mind the stop because it was the will of the community.
Everybody was supportive of being “tough” on crime. From black or brown or white community leaders to Presidents to the media to mayors and governors, by being aggressive and holding people accountable for their actions, we were protecting fellow citizens.
There is a history of “liberal” leadership calling for more arrests. Joe Biden (and endless others) strongly supported aggressive law enforcement and incarceration in the past. Per the former Vice President, “Give me the crime issue … and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.”
The Baltimore State’s Attorney, who unsuccessfully charged multiple police officers with homicide after the death of Freddie Gray asked the city police to take action regarding drug use in the neighborhood Freddie Gray was operating in, NY Times. In The Eric Garner case in New York, community and business members complained and asked for the removal of people creating problems.
“The police killings of George Floyd, Eric Garner and other black people began with allegations of a minor offense, such as passing a counterfeit $20 bill or selling untaxed cigarettes. Misdemeanors — these types of low-level criminal offenses — account for about 80 percent of all arrests and 80 percent of state criminal dockets, law Prof. Alexandra Natapoff of the University of California at Irvine and author of “Punishment Without Crime” tells NPR. “It’s surprising to many people to realize that misdemeanors — these low-level, often chump-change offenses that many of us commit routinely without even noticing it — make up the vast majority of what our criminal system does,” Natapoff says.
It’s my opinion that the vast majority of these arrests came from community and politician demands.
The system was browbeaten by everyone to do more to combat crime and violence. Society demanded action and they encouraged police aggressiveness. Politicians consistently won campaigns being tough on crime. It was a foolproof formula.
And It Worked
Data from the National Crime Survey state that we were at record historical lows for criminal activity. From 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older.
Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 48% between 1993 and 2016. Using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Crime Survey), the rate fell 74% during that span.
But Beginning in 2015, Violence Increased
Some debate whether crime is currently up or down. The principal reason for any confusion is the increase in “all” violent crime as measured by the National Crime Survey (an increase in violent crime of 28 percent from 2015-2018) and measures of “reported” crime compiled from local law enforcement agencies via the FBI. The vast majority of crime is not reported to law enforcement.
Per the FBI, violent crime increased in 2015 and 2016 but decreased slightly in 2017 (violence was essentially flat) and 2018 (a decrease of 3.3 percent). It decreased by 3.1 percent for the first half of 2019.
Bur per Gallup, one percent of Americans were victimized by violent crime in 2016. That tripled to three percent in 2019. 2019 is the first year where violent crime reached three percent, Gallup.
We have a report from the Major Cities Chiefs Association documenting a rise in homicides and aggravated assaults for 2019, Major Cities Chiefs.
Thus we have a fundamental question, which holds more importance, a 28 percent increase in all violent crime per the National Crime Survey (2015-2018), an increase in serious violence per the National Crime Survey, a tripling of violent crime per Gallup, a rise in homicides and aggravated assaults in 2019 per the Major Cities Chiefs Association, or a 3.3 percent decrease in 2018 and a 3.1 percent decrease for the first half of 2019 for reported crime from the FBI?
But Violence Doesn’t Seem To Matter Anymore
Stories out of Chicago and Baltimore and many other cities about exploding violence are now commonplace. It’s our new normal. No one seems to care about crime’s impact on jobs, economic opportunity, tourism, investment, and people’s willingness to live there. “Yea, it happens,” some citizens will say. “But it’s not happening where I live, so it doesn’t impact me.”
There are now disputes between residents and the police as to tactics. Stop and frisk via New York and emulated in other cities may have driven crime down but it produced an enormous social cost to residents. Over time, some citizens felt that the benefit of aggressive police actions was not worth the cost.
There is literally nothing introduced by cops or city leaders in the last five years that didn’t create immense controversy. Everything from predictive policing to hot spots to a focus on high-risk offenders and more all received considerable pushback. I’m aware of police and city leaders who simply stopped trying because everything they offered was rejected.
“So far this year, ShotSpotter activations and 911 calls about gunshots in Minneapolis have more than doubled from a year ago, according to a Star Tribune analysis of police data. Out of 3,218 such shots-fired calls this year, nearly half have been filed since George Floyd was killed on May 25. Through Tuesday, 190 people had been shot across Minneapolis. That’s up 47% from this time last year and significantly higher than the five-year average for the same time span, according to MPD data,” Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Cops Are The Problem?
Police officers believe that they do what the politicians and community leaders and hierarchy tell them to do. Cops don’t make policy.
They note that when all hell breaks loose, those in charge routinely throw cops under the bus. Critics blame police unions for the lack of change. Unionized cops believe that they will forever be scapegoats when policy blows up, thus they need protection. The six police officers in Baltimore indicted for the death of Freddie Gray (who had all cases dismissed) is but one example. It was obvious that city leadership wrongfully charged the officers to unsuccessfully stem protest violence.
Cops never asked for stop and frisk or aggressive police stops; all stops are dangerous and prone to bad outcomes. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for his controversial “stop and frisk” policy that sowed distrust of police in black and Latino communities during his administration. Cops warned that ultra-aggressive stop and frisk tactics were harmful and dangerous. They did the same for Coronavirus enforcement. No one listened.
“Mayor Bloomberg could have saved himself this apology if he had just listened to the police officers on the street. We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities,” Fox News.
Many (most?) cops do not want a return to aggressive policing. They feel beaten down by the discussion.
All police officers are bewildered by the lack of public support, Public Confidence. They understand that the actions of a few caused justifiable uproar, but they feel that the animosity should not be directed at all. As far as they are concerned, If you are willing to stereotype a million police employees, you are capable of any “ism.”
The controversy is causing officers to perform routine patrols and to respond to calls, but any sense of aggressiveness or proactive policing is now out the window. If it results in exploding violence, they believe that they are doing nothing more than what the community wants them to do.
Cops are leaving law enforcement in record numbers. The recruitment of officers is down 63 percent, Running Out Of Cops. Agencies are losing people. Families are telling their police officer loved ones to get out of law enforcement, and to get out now.
Due to intense criticism, cops are holding back in a multitude of cities and violence is increasing, Arrests And Increasing Violence. Police officers are calling in sick in Atlanta and cities throughout the country. Some police social media pages are suggesting a national strike. A DC police union survey says 71 percent of those polled are considering leaving, FOX DC. Every day there’s another article about cops getting out.
Many suggest that communities are getting exactly what they demanded. “Put blinders on, respond to calls, do nothing else, go home and explore other jobs,” cops have said via social media.
As to the defunding of law enforcement, many officers agree. They can’t be all things to all people. There are endless tasks assigned to law enforcement they have no business doing, Defunding The Police.
“We ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves,” said former President Barack Obama.
Arrests are plummeting concurrently with rising violence, Declining Arrests.
Community Policing Doesn’t Reduce Crime
Every mayor and chief of police are stating that community policing will save them. “While a 2012 study from the Journal of Experimental Criminology found that community-oriented policing strategies had positive effects on citizen satisfaction and perceptions of police legitimacy, researchers also wrote that “our findings overall are ambiguous. The challenges we faced in conducting this review highlight a need for further research and theory development around community policing,” Boston Globe.
That’s close to being disingenuous, there is zero proof that community-based policing is effective in crime control, see CrimeSolutions.Gov.
From the Boston Globe article, “Though officer support for community policing appears to have grown in recent years — a 2014-15 national survey found that 73 percent of officers surveyed indicated some or strong support for community policing — convincing rank-and-file officers to adopt and support this type of policing has historically been a challenge, says Tammy Rinehart Kochel, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Southern Illinois University.”
“One of the biggest — if not the biggest — hindrances to fully adopting aspects of community policing, is the police subculture,” said Kochel. “’We’re the heroes, we’re the white knights, we’re going to protect you and save you, and . . . being macho and in control of the situation’ — all of that goes counter to a lot of the ideas behind community policing.”
I will suggest that that’s no longer the case. Cops have been told that they are the problem, not the solution. They understand that they are no longer anyone’s white knight.
As stated, if crime control is no longer the priority, than be prepared for major changes that citizens will find abhorrent.
It’s obvious that cities will not defund law enforcement. A majority of fragile-community residents (54%) say they would like the police to spend more time in their community, while just 5% say they would like the police to spend less time there, High Crime Residents.
There are a number of national articles about people leaving cities. “Over the past few weeks, as protesters have been met with tear gas and rubber bullets in cities across the country, some who had predicted an exodus grew more resolute.” Even The New York Times asked if New York City was still worth it,” The Atlantic.
The vast majority of Americans do not want to defund or change their law enforcement agencies beyond ensuring fairness and equal treatment for all, ABC News.
“If you are living in parts of West Baltimore for example, where they’ve been so resource-deprived, yet they see more and more increases [in spending] for the police, they say, ‘This isn’t fair, and this is not what we want…But at the same time, those same communities are really struggling with violent crime, and for public or private dollars to be invested in those communities, you need violence to go down,” Baltimore Sun.
Defunding law enforcement may have a profoundly negative impact on the viability and economies of cities, CDLLife. Cities with high rates of violence are hemorrhaging jobs, taxes, economic investment, and tourism.
“In reality, Democratic leaders from Joe Biden down have virtually no interest in the call to “defund the police” that’s become a central demand of weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.”
“Grassroots activists and younger Democrats who have spoken with BuzzFeed News this week say they’ve been disappointed in party leaders — including Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Black Congressional leaders including Rep. Jim Clyburn and CBC Chair Karen Bass — as they’ve watched them swiftly turn away from those conversations, emphatically rejecting the idea of defunding police as they face immediate attacks from Republicans,” BuzFeed.
Even the poster city for defunding the police, Camden, NJ, is almost a fabrication. It’s the most violent city in New Jersey and one of the most violent in the country. Yes, crime went down but the number of police officers increased along with millions in additional dollars, Camden.
We’ve now accepted the fact that high crime residents will live in perpetually high crime communities. The education of children will be impacted along with a dramatic loss in jobs and economic viability. The massive violence in Chicago and many other cities is now commonplace. No one seems to care.
I predict there will be a time when society finds all this unacceptable and communities will demand once again aggressive actions on the part of cops and the justice system. It’s happening in Baltimore now, Baltimore Crime.
“Since the Freddie Gray situation, even if you call the police and give a description, they can’t touch the criminals,” the business owner said. “They know they’re untouchable. That’s the key.”
“This is a killing field.” “Don’t give up on Baltimore,” Mayor Catherine E. Pugh told officers gathered for a roll call in the Southern District police station last week, Washington Post.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it “feels like we’re losing the streets” after another violent summer weekend that saw 32 people shot and nine people killed,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
But the days of proactive policing are now over thanks to protests and advocates.
Regardless as to our commitment to change, and the justifiable need to do things humanely, we will live with a new reality that discounts the lives of residents as expendable.
See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.
Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.
US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.
National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.
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Reprinted with permission from https://www.crimeinamerica.net.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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