Last week, the New York Times published an article absolutely slamming police officers for ‘putting people in cages’, blaming them for mass incarceration and upholding a system of oppression.

This letter is in response to that article.

Enjoy.

 

To the New York Times
RE: September 26, 2019 Editorial

I have just read your September 26, 2019 editorial in disbelief. I don’t think I have EVER read such a biased and inflammatory piece of writing. As the wife of a Police Captain I have the privilege of actually knowing some facts about the reality of law enforcement. Your entire piece is based on the premise that law enforcement comprises lawmaker, enforcer, and judge and jury, and that they are generally violent, biased people who do no good and are intent on hurting the innocent.  

“The reality is this. The police fill prisons”

That is entirely wrong. The police force is tasked with enforcing laws. Laws that are made by Congress at the federal level and state and local politicians locally. The police do not make any laws, or even get to decide which laws they agree with or would prefer not to enforce. They arrest suspects who are breaking laws. The police target behavior. They do not target social or racial groups, despite the convenient current narrative that somehow all cops are violent and evil bigots who start their day hoping to have the chance to arrest/beat/shoot an innocent person going about their daily business just because they happen to be a certain race, gender or sexual orientation.

Those arrested suspects go through the criminal justice system. In California where we live, most do not serve any jail or prison time even if found guilty.  Following an arrest, most are out of custody within hours. Literally hours. Teams of cops repeatedly arrest the same drug-dealers multiple times. And no – higher minimum wages will generally not convince a drug dealer making several hundred dollars a day to quit and get a real job.

 

Eventually, if the charges are not dropped by the District Attorney’s office- again a common occurrence – those suspects face a trial. They are judged by a court. Not by the police. And sentenced by a judge. Yes – still not by the police. If they are incarcerated, their chance to get out early is determined by government, parole boards and the courts. Again – not the cops.

Your editorial implies that all cops are violent and bigoted people.

 “The police do not help vulnerable populations- they make populations vulnerable” 

Your statistics are unbelievably misleading. As you note there are over 1,000,000 law enforcement officers in the US. But later in the article you state that those officers “kill an average of nearly 1,000 people annually”. 

Nevermind the use of the word ‘kill’ which of course as your most articulate authors know is intended to suggest that those incidents were all unjustified and avoidable. The authors don’t spend any time qualifying what they mean by ‘kill’. I refer you to one of many sources and articles that shed some light on what ‘kill’ actually means in this context. An October 24, 2015 article in the Washington Post cites the papers own analysis. As I am sure you are aware, in 2015, the Post created a database cataloging every fatal shooting nationwide by a police officer in the line of duty, collecting data on those who were killed and details of the shootings.

An October 2015 article covered the tragic murder of a state trooper  – Trooper Trevor Casper – who was chasing an armed bank robber and killer on the run, Steven Snyder. Trooper Casper shot and killed Snyder in a gun battle in which he was also killed; there is a telling explanation of what actually is the cause of these ‘kills’ by police.

 

“Snyder’s killing, as documented in interviews and police reports, is among the 800 fatal shootings by police so far this year. As the tally continues to grow, so does public debate and criticism over police use of deadly force.”

But only a small number of the shootings — roughly 5 percent — occurred under the kind of circumstances that raise doubt and draw public outcry, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The vast majority of individuals shot and killed by police officers were, like Snyder, armed with guns and killed after attacking police officers or civilians or making other direct threats.  

Source: Washington Post, October 24, 2015.

So we can deduce from this that roughly 95 percent of police shootings were sadly necessary and are fully justifiable. Not that I make the point that we should not be looking for ways to reduce these numbers, through de-escalation, less-lethal means etc., but to suggest that the police are simply ‘killing’ 1,000 people a year without context is at best misleading and at worst tantamount to lying to attempt to convince the reader that the police are indiscriminate murderers.

Finally let’s put those events where law enforcement does result in a death into context. A million police officers in the US. Let’s be conservative and assume that only 10 percent of those officers are on duty and out on patrol at any one time. So that’s 100,000 men and women out on the streets of our towns and cities throughout the US on any given day.

Let’s assume each officer encounters/contacts an average of 20 members of the public on that typical day. The number is typically much higher- especially for officers on the beat or in patrol cars but again, using conservative numbers. 

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So we have two million daily encounters/conversations/observations etc. – some kind of interaction or contact of any kind – per day between law enforcement and the public. Over the 365 days of a year that’s 730 million contacts.

From those 730 million contacts your editorial cites that there are 10.5 million arrests, the majority of which you state result in dismissed charges. And back to my earlier point – law enforcement has no control over whether charges are dropped or upheld. Their job is to arrest suspects who are or appear to be breaking laws. 

10.5 million arrests out of my conservative 730 million contacts gives an arrest rate of 1.44 percent. Out of all those contacts between law enforcement and the public throughout America over the course of a year less than 2 percent of people encountered by police are arrested.

And of those, 1,000 are shootings or otherwise fatal incidents. If we look at that as a percentage of total daily contact between the police and the public over the course of a year, that is an incident rate of 0.000136 percent.

A screenshot from the St. Paul officer’s body cam shows Ronald Davis attacking him with a knife. (St. Paul PD)

 

Less than a thousandth of a percent of contacts result in a fatality. And as noted above, based on the Post’s analysis, around 95 percent of those incidents are generally justified as a result of the suspect posing a real threat to the public or police.  So we have 5 percent of less than 1000th of a percent of law enforcement contacts that could be considered questionable or completely unjustified. Those are the ones we of course hear about in the news.

So if less than 2 percent of contacts result in an arrest and less than a thousandth of a percent of contacts result in a fatality, clearly those officers must be doing something else with their time. Perhaps you might care to spend some time with police officers on the street to see what that really is.

Administering Narcan to avert fatal overdoes, helping homeless people get services, picking up a wheelchair-confined homeless elderly man and taking him to the hospital, talking to neighborhood children, stopping by local businesses to check on owners, hosting a monthly community meeting to connect with the neighborhood to find solutions to crime, publishing a daily Twitter feed to ensure the community gets real time news of what the cops on the streets are doing and why, chasing social services to get a toddler at risk living on the streets with drug-addicted parents into a safe place- the list is endless. 

 

That’s just a few of the examples that I have personal knowledge of. The vast majority of police and law enforcement officers spend their time serving the public to make our communities safer. Arrests are just one part of the job of an officer, incidences of violence are extremely rare, and as the Washington Post stated, fatalities that are questionable as a result of an officers’ poor judgment or worse, poor character, are so rare that they are less than 5 percent of 1000th of a percent of the outcome of any of the contacts between law enforcement and the public. And yet articles like yours suggest exactly the opposite.

The New York Times’ stated core purpose is to “enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment”. 

This editorial does not represent any of these values, and by including an article such as this, which provide a wholly inaccurate and misleading depiction of law enforcement in this country, does everything to damage society by undermining the efforts of decent men and women who go out every day with an unwavering commitment to protect the innocent from harm and make our communities safe.

Yours respectfully,

Ms. Julie J. Watson

 

 

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