Dislike Cops? No Justice No Peace

A longtime Baltimore newsman wrote on his personal Facebook page that he had become completely disillusioned with violent crime in Baltimore. He suggested that if the crime problem can cause a staunch supporter like him to lose faith, then the city had a real problem.

The mayor of Baltimore declares that crime is out of control. She is calling for all agencies in the city to gather each morning to discuss how they can combat crime.

I was born and raised in Baltimore, and I have been an ardent supporter of the city. A professional friend e-mailed me and asked what I would do to stem the bloodshed. I suggested that the city could start by understanding the concerns of its police officers.

The History

We are all aware of the problems between cops and the communities they serve. We are all cognizant of the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson and beyond.

It’s abundantly apparent that many have drawn their ideological lines and mistrust (dislike?) their opposition.

I understand the criticism that comes with the suggestion that cities should express sensitivity to police officers. Many believe that officers have abused and disrespected the citizens they are supposed to serve. This morning, I read several additional stories about multi-million dollar awards based on police misconduct.

Yes, I understand that the mere thought of appeasing cops runs against the grain of media coverage and some opinion. Officers are portrayed as thugs, racists, and other despicable terms.

Recent controversies propelled police officers to one of the lowest points in Gallups surveys before bouncing back to one of America’s most trusted professions the year after, Crime in America-Public Opinion.

But regardless as to how some feel about police officers, one thing is clear; homicides and violent crime are increasing in most American cities. Baltimore, Chicago, and in cities throughout the country are profoundly affected.

Proactive Policing

People in high crime communities complain that police are overzealous regarding incessant stops. But proactive policing was debated and thoroughly examined by everyone including the media over the course of decades.

It’s not as if cops decided to do this on their own. Why would they? Every stop means greater danger and unwanted public entanglements.

Officers were ordered to do this by affected communities, mayors, city councils, and governors. It wasn’t a secret. Vast crime reductions in New York City (referred to as the New York City miracle) and elsewhere were attributed to proactive law enforcement efforts. The media reported on the numbers of arrests and resulting jail overcrowding. Everyone knew what was going on and why.

Baltimore and Ferguson

But aggressive policing created community resentment. It had a role to play in disturbances.

When we examine the circumstances of riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, the media and critical narrative was almost completely wrong.

Of the six police officers charged with criminal violations and murder regarding the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, none were convicted and most survived administrative charges by the city police department. None were dismissed.  The incident was examined from every possible angle by critics throughout the country yet all officers were completely exonerated.

It was the same for Ferguson and the narrative of, “hands up, don’t shoot.”  What propelled the nation into a frenzy of anti-cop sentiment turned out to be fiction.

That’s not to suggest that there are not examples of police brutality and unjustifiable homicides; there are.

But cops in Baltimore and throughout the nation said to themselves, “Wait a minute, those officers were just charged with murder for doing something I do every day. If they can do it to them, they can do it to me,” Crime in America-Baltimore.

The country and media promoted aggressive policing yet cops took the hit. The critical narrative regarding the actions of officers was almost completely wrong in Baltimore and Furguson.

But there is no apology or attempt to soften the narrative. If you were a cop, would you be affected? Would it cause you to minimize your risk?

The Increase in Violent Crime

Many of us from the former director of the FBI to data from Pew to research institutions to national law enforcement organizations believe that the vast increase in violent crime is because cops are holding back, they are not being proactive, Crime in America-Cops.

Some officers are so impacted by the criticism that they are sitting back and not taking aggressive actions. Yes, they are responding to calls for service. Yes, they are doing routine patrols. But many are doing little else.

Proactive policing (cops doing more to control crime) has the backing of research as to lowering violent crime, Crime in America-Proactive Policing.

If cops are not being proactive or aggressive enough, and if its possible that this lack of action is contributing to increasing violent crime (homicides have the highest percentage increase since the 1960’s), is it time to consider that our approach to law enforcement has been dysfunctional? Have cops lost faith in the system?

Per Pew, 72% say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons. Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of high-profile, negative incidents.

About nine-in-ten officers (93%) say their colleagues worry more about their personal safety – a level of concern recorded even before a total of eight officers died in separate ambush-style attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

How Cops Feel

There are some in law enforcement who are convinced that there is a literal, “war on cops” based on the increasing number of officers murdered or assaulted, Cops Worry About Safety. Many believe that there’s a culture war.

The newspaper articles on officers leaving or the difficulty of hiring new recruits are many.

I’m aware of family members telling their loved one’s to get out of policing and to get out now. They are also being told to stop being proactive as an act of self-preservation.

Many others are contemplating retirement, and jurisdictions are considering major pay subsidies to keep them on the job.

Those of us who have been police officers or existed in a law enforcement culture believe that the vast majority of cops are respectable, dedicated, even-tempered people who are just trying to do a demanding job with as little difficulty as possible.

The public is justifiably questioning the legitimacy of some police shootings and use of force. There ARE bad cops (the same as bad reporters, stockbrokers, and any other profession), and I dislike them intensely.

Over-Criticism Has Consequences

But most cops see themselves as protectors. Take away that role, and many don’t see a reason to continue in policing.

Homicides and violent crime are growing considerably in most of our cities.

Thus there are implications for the public’s view of law enforcement and everyone’s personal safety.

I believe that every police family is having a conversation with their loved one’s as to staying on a job where they are not supported or appreciated by the larger society, or segments of society.

I also believe (through direct and social media conversations with hundreds of cops from around the country) that the majority are concerned, frustrated or are contemplating leaving law enforcement.

As I ask in one of my previous articles, “what happens when we run out of cops?” Public criticism is sometimes necessary, right and justifiable when circumstances warrant.

Just be careful; let’s not convince good people to leave policing. Cops need recognition and encouragement to take the risks that endanger their lives.

But the bottom line is that many officers are simply stating that if there is no justice, there will be no peace. They will not risk their lives for an unappreciative public.

If the aggressive policing that most Americans supported is now questioned, and if major events involving cops turn out to be mired in falsehoods, and officers are still being blamed, then what would you do?

It’s time to reassess whether our endless criticism is in anyone’s best interest. Per Gallup, most in America now rank policing as one of our most trusted professions. The tide seems to be turning. But for Baltimore and other American cities, I hope that it’s not too late.

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Thirty-five years of speaking 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. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University.

Pew Sources

Pew-Cops-First Study

Pew-Cops-Second Study

(Photo courtesy Mali Gank. In the picture are Amber and Justin Childers. Justin is a deputy sheriff for the Preston County (WV) Sheriff’s Department.)