We are in danger of losing cities to violent crime. There may be points of no return for decades.
The future of policing and cities hangs in the balance.
Our next door neighbor screamed for my father’s assistance. He was being robbed in his home. My ex-Marine father ran to his assistance only to be confronted with a man holding a gun. My mother called the cops. They were there instantly. My father climbed through an upstairs window, went to the porch roof, and told the officers where the criminals were hiding.
“Thank God for the Baltimore City Police,” he said.
Readers know that I was born and raised in Baltimore when it was a clean, low crime city with great schools and parks. Yes, in our working-class neighborhood, we taunted the cops when they yelled at us for playing ball in the streets. We knew we could outrun them through the maze of city alleys and yards.
Yet we knew never to push confrontations too far for fear of the whoopings our parents would dish out. We begrudgingly respected the police.
There is endless distrust between some communities and cops, Law Enforcement Today. It may be acute in Baltimore, but it’s also happening in many additional cities.
I was the Director of Public Information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety for fourteen years where I interacted frequently with members of the Baltimore City Police.
The Baltimore Police Department is an honorable agency with a very long history. I have been to the homes of retirees who display their badge cases and memories with pride and dignity. I have been to FOP lodges and the homes of police widows.
Yet since the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing riots over the course of several days, violent crime in Baltimore has skyrocketed. Officers have limited (stopped?) their proactive or aggressive policing. Per the Washington Post, citizens claim that the criminals are untouchable. The reputation of the agency is in tatters.
Who’s Responsible for Violent Crime?
There are those who will eagerly buy the narrative that the Baltimore City Police (and law enforcement agencies throughout the country) are inherently corrupt and abusive.
But where I live in Cape Canaveral, FL, I’m struck by the numerous print and electronic media reports of cops saving lives, risking their well being to capture dangerous people, or engaging in acts of charity to support the community. Central Florida seems to value their police officers and celebrate their jobs. Consequently, my county is clean, orderly and generally speaking, enjoying low crime rates, TC Palm. Citizens strongly support their police officers.
The same circumstances exist when we go to our mountain home in West Virginia. Like many areas, the Appalachians have issues with income and substance abuse, but stranger to stranger violent crime is almost nonexistent. It’s clean and orderly. Citizens express pride in their police.
Basic criminology states that communities and citizens are principally responsible for crime control and police relations. When I left law enforcement and went to college, I was taught that cops were there to keep the peace; they had a limited impact on day to day crime rates and totals. To my knowledge, that understanding hasn’t changed.
If you do hard drugs, beat your spouse, buy stolen goods or engage in other questionable acts, a cop patrolling your street for a minute or two a day isn’t going to have much of an impact.
Regardless of the reasons, if you are endlessly critical of cops, they will disengage.
Who’s Responsible for Resolutions?
If Baltimore and an array of other cities are suffering through immense violent crime problems, and if citizens have issues with the police, who’s responsible for resolutions?
If endless hostility is expressed to cops for doing their jobs, why be a Baltimore City cop? Why risk your life or sanity for an ungrateful public?
Readers are going to question my reasoning. They are going to point out the deficiencies of the Baltimore police; the corrupt gun and drug task forces, the history of abuse towards its citizens.
But I could make a similar case for the media regarding the endless examples of wanton sexual abuse of women, discrimination towards hiring minorities, mistakes in reporting, their extremely poor rankings in Gallup, and questions as to whether journalism itself has a future. But most assume that the media, whatever their flaws, is inherently honorable. We are willing to accept their mistakes and resolutions and move on. Acceptance is for the greater good.
But when it comes to cops, some refuse forgiveness. Yep, cops have done a variety of stupid and abusive things in the past. So have you. So has every other profession.
So the fundamental question remains resolution and who’s responsible?
I guarantee that if the endless criticism doesn’t stop, cops will simply leave or disengage, which is happening in cities throughout the country where officers are getting out and recruitment is getting to be almost impossible.
If the endless criticism isn’t balanced with solutions and a dialog of resolution, Baltimore (along with other major cities) is doomed, BizJournals.
We express more sympathy for prison inmates than we do for cops, Columbia Journalism Review.
Ok. The situation stinks. Are there solutions?
Somehow, someway, people are going to have to come to grips with the fact that cops are the same as anyone else. If you constantly berate them, they will withdraw. The problems with police retention and recruitment are real along with police suicides, substance abuse and stress, Crime in America.
Somehow, some way, we are going to have to recognize that communities and citizens, not cops, are principally responsible for their own safety. That means stepping up and doing what’s right, Law Enforcement Today.
Some readers will state that it’s inherently unfair (and unsafe) to target high crime communities with the responsibility for their own safety. But the burden has always been theirs. Law enforcement is there to stabilize a community and allow citizens to reassert control. This is exactly what happened in New York through proactive policing. New York was thought to be an impossible basket case of crime and violence. Today, it’s the low crime wonder of the country.
Citizens Need a Strong Voice
It also means that cities are going to have to find ways to empower citizens with choices as to the kind of policing they want, and accept the consequences. If we want citizens to control their own fates, they need influence and power to make decisions.
Known as citizen-centered analytics, we need to know what’s on their minds and ask them for solutions, Gallup.
The last time I wrote about this, Crime in America, I got blasted by cops and others. Per some, it’s not up to communities to decide laws and enforcement.
That’s silly, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors overlook an endless array of illegal acts (and have done so for decades) because citizens want their marijuana, fireworks, off-road vehicles, gambling, public drinking, and endless other questionable activities.
Point of No Return?
Look, we are now in danger of losing cities to violence and dysfunction. There may be points of no return for decades. People are going to have to sit down and negotiate. People are going to have to compromise. People are going to have to stop their endless criticism of cops. Officers need to respect local guidance and opinions.
The future of policing and cities hangs in the balance.
Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – 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. You can contact me at [email protected]