NEW YORK, NY – There are endless media reports regarding people doing questionable things during coronavirus-related incidents including confrontations at restaurants and stores, assaulting park rangers, and Americans rebelling against mask and social distancing rules.
In the middle of all this are cops.
Instead of hiring public or mental health workers to enforce public health issues, we rely on cops who, if truth be told, aren’t happy about their new roles.
There are comparisons to criticisms regarding aggressive or stop and frisk policing from 2003 to 2016. Systemic and confrontational law enforcement was never the idea of rank and file officers. It was community leaders along with politicians and the media that demanded that law enforcement “do something” to address increasing violence.
As to COVID, no one disputes that officers need to respond to confrontations that involve violence or potential violence, but 90% of incidents could be better handled by public or mental health experts.
Many (most?) of the explosive incidents that resulted in police use of force during crime control efforts (with massive and negative national publicity) involve suspects with mental health or substance abuse histories. Cops repeatedly asked for mental health specialists to be the first responders. Officers do not have the training or education or equipment to deal with complex mental health issues.
The result after years of explosive and harsh negative media coverage? The vast majority of cases continue to use untrained, unequipped police officers as first responders.
It’s the same with the Coronavirus. Cops are insisting that they are not the right people to be enforcing epidemic requirements. There are public and mental health specialists trained to deal with emotional people who see their jobs or religious or personal freedoms threatened.
We hire thousands of former offenders to interact with gangs and those involved in violence to deescalate dangerous situations. It should be the same with COVID.
There are a ton of unemployed people who could be trained to take on COVID enforcement roles. We are currently hiring and training an army of Coronavirus contract tracers. Why not hire people to be social distance mediators?
Amazon workers are getting massive national publicity over “fears” of the virus, but there is almost nothing as to cops. Why?
Does anyone care? Nope. “Cops are already out there,” people say to themselves. “Why should we hire others?’
So citizens, community leaders, politicians, and the media continue to insist that cops “do something” to keep us safe from the virus.
All is well until problems erupt, or enforcement is deemed disproportionate or people complain. When that happens, citizens, community leaders, politicians and the media will simply throw cops under the bus and disavowal all personal responsibility.
Examples of protests, crowds, parties, family gatherings, church, and business owners involved in social distancing or mask or customer-related disputes are endless.
From The Crime Report: Crime of many types may be down in many places, but police across the country face a new reality of policing in a pandemic, with unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable new assignments, NPR reports. Enforcing social distancing rules on the streets, in parks, and at house parties has led to conflicts and complaints of unequal enforcement.
Beyond the real threat of exposure to a potentially deadly disease, the new work conditions for police have also led to some grumbling.
“That’s not why we got into this profession,” says Capt. Tom Shaffer of the Omaha Police Department. “I can speak for all nearly thousand sworn law enforcement officers here: Nobody became a cop so they could go to a bar and grill and say ‘You’ve got 11 people here, you’ve got to send one home.’”
New York: The city’s largest police union is demanding cops get “out of the social distancing enforcement business,” while slamming New York pols for “releasing criminals,” “discouraging proactive policing,” and leaving subways “in chaos.”
“This situation is untenable: the NYPD needs to get cops out of the social distancing enforcement business altogether,” a statement from Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said.
“The cowards who run this city have given us nothing but vague guidelines and mixed messages, leaving the cops on the street corners to fend for ourselves,” Lynch said. “But now that the inevitable backlash has arrived, they are once again throwing us under the bus.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also wants cops out of the social distancing business but for different reasons. He believes the process is racist.
Washington Post: Early reports of a stark divide along racial lines among coronavirus-rules enforcement has prompted concern from advocates and lawmakers who say police may be taking a harsher tact toward people of color reports the Washington Post.
“There’s a racial bias throughout our criminal justice system, and the way the coronavirus violations are being enforced just highlights it,” said University of Cincinnati criminologist Wendy Calaway.
More than 100 police officers have died from Coronavirus-related contacts, far more than doctors, nurses, and paramedic-firefighters, Cops Dying. No one cares.
The pandemic has altered policing in the nation’s 18,000 departments. Chiefs have told employees to avoid physical contact, resulting in fewer arrests and traffic stops. Officers have been told to focus on enforcing health orders from a safe distance or with aids like drones. New schedules have been devised to prevent outbreaks and cover for sick officers reports the Wall Street Journal.
Crime rates, after dipping early during lockdowns, are rising in some places at the same time that drops in local tax revenue are threatening law enforcement budgets. Because they can’t work from home or consistently socially distance, police have been hit hard by COVID-19.
In New York City, 5,237 officers and civilians out of 55,000 have tested positive, including 38 who died. In Chicago, 442 of the 13,000 officers tested positive, including three who died.
I was asked repeatedly about negative publicity and police use of force before the Coronavirus hit. It seems that there were daily incidents. I was asked to explain why these events keep occurring.
I tell people that policing in America has moved from incident to issue, a phrase I’ve used during my thirty-five years of media relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. It means that the media is no longer giving cops the benefit of doubt; that anything negative is reported and amplified. This also applies to politics.
Presidential politicians find it convenient to campaign against law enforcement. They are eager to expose the “sins” of cops. Bernie Sanders states that when stopped by the police, “Respect what they are doing so that you don’t get shot in the back of the head.” Responding to the same question, Joe Biden stated, “Institutional racism should no longer exist. As president, I’ll put forward change to help put an end to it,” he said in the clip, CBS.
Thus the presumptive Democratic candidate assumes that a million police officers and employees are inherently racist. If you are capable of stereotyping hundreds of thousands of people, you are capable of any “ism.” But it’s socially acceptable if the prejudice is directed towards cops. This is from the same candidate who strongly supported harsh law enforcement and incarceration in the past.
We need to place big events in their proper context.
Part of that contextual discussion is that cops were coerced into aggressive tactics to counter the growing crime and fear of crime problems of past decades. Who “forced” cops to become more aggressive? It was politicians at all levels. It was community leaders and the media. Everyone understood that crime was destroying communities throughout the country and they wanted law enforcement to do “something” about it.
I took an editorial writer from a major newspaper into the Baltimore City Jail at his request to see the massive overcrowding due to aggressive policing. Inmates surrounded him aggressively asking questions and demanding answers. He was scared (visibly shaking) and asked to leave. Every reporter in the market fully understood what was happening yet few raised their voice in protest. Yet when I point this out to reporters, they are appalled when I suggest that they knew and did nothing.
I attended community meetings where police were blamed for not caring or being racially biased for not removing troublemakers. “I don’t care how you do it,” proclaimed one community leader, ”just get them off the corner.” Thus there was a consensus among everyone that cops needed to be aggressive and drive the “bad” people out of communities through law enforcement and incarceration.
It would be a radical departure from previous law enforcement tactics.
When I was a cop, good rather than numerous arrests were emphasized. You wanted a reputation with prosecutors and judges based on not making chicken-excrement arrests. Because of this, you were available for major calls like crimes in progress and terrible accidents. We questioned the judgment of cops who were never available for calls or backup because of time-consuming minor arrests.
We didn’t arrest for small amounts of marijuana or for having a drink or two and driving. We took most kids home to their parents for stupid stuff (my first encounter with law enforcement as a teenager). Many domestic issues were handled by stern warnings and referrals to counselors.
Then Mothers Against Drunk Driving wanted everyone drinking and driving arrested. Domestic incidents turned from warnings into the arrest of both parties per political and advocacy pressure.
Law enforcement was ordered by community leaders and politicians to get the trouble makers out of the neighborhood.
To this day, when I review the results of incidents gone bad, I’m not surprised by the connection between political and community or business pressure and what happened. They want troublesome people gone. They don’t care how it’s done. We haven’t learned from the past.
Judicious stops turned into mass contacts and arrests. Prudence became aggression.
Every stop is a dangerous event for all involved. There are no safe arrests. It was inevitable that things would go south.
Officers were at the mercy of everyone as to the pressure for more arrests and community safety. There wasn’t a politician or community member or reporter in the country who didn’t understand or agree with the strategy. There were few dissenting voices.
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.
The city’s top police union hit back.
“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.
“His administration’s misguided policy inspired an anti-police movement that has made cops the target of hatred and violence, and stripped away many of the tools we had used to keep New Yorkers safe. The apology is too little, too late,” Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said. Fox News.
The data states that policing is one of the most respected professions in the US and the world, and research documents that the overwhelming number of people stopped by law enforcement felt that they acted responsibly, Confidence in Police.
Eighty-five percent of Americans either have a great deal or some confidence in law enforcement. The media and Congress are at the bottom of the ratings.
Regardless, the endless negative publicity from the 2% of 40 million contacts where police used or threatened force, Bureau of Justice Statistics, had a dramatically gloomy impact:
There has been a 63% decrease in applicants applying to become a police officer per a national survey, Out Of Cops.
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, Cops Holding Back?
The data on police PTSD, suicides, drug and alcohol use and general stress is well documented, see Police Stress. Is policing becoming too hard, too emotionally draining? Is that why recruitment and retention are problems?
There are endless references as to how being a cop changes your personality.
“How many domestic violence calls can you handle? How many people shot? How much blood? How many abused children? How much violence can you process?” Crime in America.
The rate of full-time police officers decreased by 11% from 1997 to 2016, Declining Cops.
When we study the problems of this century, crime and justice issues will be at the forefront. The record will show that cops were mandated to become aggressive with endless stops and arrests and that almost everyone demanded the effort.
Now we are facing the same strategy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Politicians and medical people, media and citizens are insisting that cops enforce restrictions.
If you’ve been a cop, you know how easy it is for things to quickly get out of hand. I almost shot someone at close range during a suspicious traffic stop for reaching for a gun that turned out to be a starter pistol (a nonlethal device used at track meets). He forgot that it was in his glove compartment. There is a fog of war, and there is a fog of police encounters where the innocuous can seem deadly.
The only way to stop or lessen negative contacts with citizens is to decrease stops or have sufficient person-power on hand and plenty of non-lethal alternatives or have mental health specialists present or heavily invest in training and techniques. We know all this yet it simply doesn’t happen because politicians and citizens won’t invest the money.
Cops understand that they are pawns in a much larger game. They understand that they do not control anything. Yet they are sent out daily with inadequate preparation to engage in activities that significantly heighten the probability that they will encounter resistance or have to use force or be hurt or worse.
There are thousands of media reports about the Coronavirus dangers posed to prison and jail inmates; but almost nothing regarding the plight of cops dying.
Cops are getting out of policing per the demands of family members. Recruitment and retention are pressing issues. Like urban teachers, I foresee the day when we will have no choice but to hire foreign police officers to patrol our streets.
But this can all be remedied by training, equipment, better pay, sufficient person-power, and experts in mental health being available at all times. The same applies to public health specialists safely enforcing COVID rules and regulations.
But that’s not happening and once again, everyday cops are caught in the middle of unrealistic expectations.
What politicians and community members and the media want and what’s possible are, once again, resulting in problems.
But with rising violent crime, US Crime, or a Coronavirus pandemic, the stakes are higher than ever.
Will we learn from our past or continue to ask too much from too few?
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.
The Crime in America.Net RSS feed (https://crimeinamerica.net/?
Contact us at [email protected]
My book based on thirty-five years of criminal justice public relations,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon
This is an ad-free website.
Reviews are appreciated.
Want to make sure you never miss a story from Law Enforcement Today? With so much “stuff” happening in the world on social media, it’s easy for things to get lost.
Make sure you click “following” and then click “see first” so you don’t miss a thing! (See image below.) Thanks for being a part of the LET family!