The Public Is Responsible for Crime, Not Cops
Cops take the heat for rising crime, but that emphasis is misplaced. It’s communities that control crime. This is criminology 101. But if you want to see the power of law enforcement, remove them or criticize them to the point of inaction and see what happens.
Law Enforcement Doesn’t Prevent Crime
When I left policing and went to college, my criminology professors stated that the criminal justice system is vastly limited as to controlling crime.
“Think about it,” they stated, “does the criminal justice system stop an abusive husband from beating his wife? Do we make decisions as to using hard drugs, cheating on our taxes, buying stolen goods, or any other form of criminality?” Are bullies deterred because a police officer momentarily appears on their streets?
They suggested that communities and the larger society controls crime, and that law enforcement and the rest of the justice system have limited powers.
Society has been able to reduce drinking and driving, domestic violence, child abuse and probably crime in general by sending clear messages as to what’s acceptable behavior.
We’ve always known that communities play “the” major role as to neighborhood safety. It was never the job of law enforcement to “control” bad behavior. Law enforcement is there to provide stability, thus allowing the public to assert itself.
Cops want communities to take responsibility for their own crime problems. Cops are not there to solve the ills of the world.
I was the Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Director of Information Services for the National Crime Prevention Council. In both positions, we understood that communities were “the” key ingredients as to asserting proper behavior.
Cops Are the Problem?
“Wait,” some will say, “brutal, corrupt cops are the problem. The community is their victim. If cops did their jobs with sensitivity and compassion, and really embraced community policing, the crime problem would be properly addressed.”
While admitting that some police officers are taking a public beating over use of force problems, few dispute the fact that the vast majority of officers are good, decent people simply trying to do a tough job with the least resistance possible.
Public criticism of “all” cops had lead to an almost impossible retention and recruitment problem. Endless media articles document that cops are getting out of policing. Job-related misuse of alcohol, suicides, and PTSD are well documented.
Policing is one of the most trusted professions in the US per Gallup, and US Department of Justice research indicates that 90 percent of the public (after 40 million yearly police interactions) believe the officer acted responsibly.
There are police-community relations problems, but that doesn’t negate the fact that community members are principally responsible for their own safety.
Chicago’s top cop stood side-by-side with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to deliver a message to the residents of their city in the midst of another bloody weekend: “Step up.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said no arrests have been made yet in the flurry of weekend shootings, which he said were not random, and were “fueled by gang conflicts.” Instead, after 11 people were killed and 70 were shot in ongoing violence, Johnson said the onus was on the communities to take responsibility.
“As neighborhoods, we can do better,” Johnson said at a news conference, adding he and Emanuel are always held accountable. But, Johnson said, there is a lack of accountability in the communities plagued by violence.
“I hear people holding us accountable all the time but I never hear people saying ‘these individuals out here on the street need to stop pulling the trigger.’ I never hear that,” Johnson said. “It’s the same individuals that continually commit those crimes. Where is the accountability for them?”
“CPD is only as good as the faith the community has in it,” he said. “Every societal ill simply can’t be placed at the doorstep and expect police to fix that.”
“It’s not about what the police department can do, it’s about what you should do,” Fox News.
The key to the reductions, researchers and residents say, has been the coming together of community members and police officers targeting the people and places most plagued by violence. Mothers sit out on the most violent corners, police officials have reinvented how they deploy officers and work with the community, and a coalition of organizations provides therapy and job training to the men who are most likely to shoot or be shot.
Many say it takes a community-wide effort. “You can’t just expect policing to solve it. That’s not going to work,” says Tonika Johnson, who helps lead the neighborhood’s Public Safety Task Force, The Christian Science Monitor.
According to Police Commissioner William Gross, community members cannot buy into the notion that police will not work to help them, calling it a scare tactic employed by criminals who don’t want residents to talk to police.
“Criminals love when police and the community are at a disconnect,” he said, pointing to the gang and crack cocaine wars that tore through the community in the early 1990s, with murders topping out at 152 in 1994. It took a community response — of clergy members and police working with other community leaders, known since as the Boston Miracle — to help combat crime, just as it will today, Gross said.
“We’re succesful when we’re working together,” Boston Globe.
The national murder clearance rate—the percent of cases that end with an arrest or identification of a suspect who can’t be apprehended—fell to 59.4 percent in 2016, the lowest it’s been since the FBI has tracked the issue, reports USA Today. “If we don’t address it, the issue is just going to get worse,” said Jim Adcock, a former coroner who started the Mid-South Cold Case Initiative to help police departments looking to bolster their cold case units.
Chicago, which cleared only 26 percent of homicides in 2016, is just one among many cities struggling to solve gun crimes. The problem has been exacerbated by politics, fear, a no-snitching philosophy mentality pervasive in some enclaves, diminished resources for law enforcement and discontent with policing in minority communities. Gangs fueling much of the violence have become less hierarchical. They have also become more perplexing for investigators to understand, said Peter Scharf, a Louisiana State University criminologist.
In cities like Baltimore, Chicago and New Orleans—which cleared under 28 percent of its homicide cases in 2016—the fracturing of gangs has added a difficult dimension for detectives. “It’s a national disaster,” said Scharf. “With every one of these weekends where you see multiple killed and even more wounded and few arrested, the gangs become more emboldened and the witnesses weaker in their conviction to step up.”
Homicides are unsolved, violent criminals are not held accountable, cops are leaving, and many want to point fingers at officers gone wrong as the fundamental problem and the cause of our ills.
No one hates bad cops more than me. No one dislikes bad cops more than decent, caring officers. But the data says that, for most Americans, we trust police officers far more than most other professions.
I don’t know how to parse all of society’s ills but our primary problem as to growing crime in many cities is not individual cops; that’s a convenient excuse.
That can mean a ton of interaction with communities as to what kind of enforcement they want. When writing about this in the past, many police readers have objected to the thought that communities get to decide levels of enforcement, understandably suggesting that those issues should be in the hands of lawmakers.
But for Chicago and many other cities, dialogue and compromise may be the only solution, Crime in America.
It’s interesting that the #MeToo movement rightly demands justice for endless and inexcusable transgressions against women, but I haven’t heard one member of the movement blame cops for sexism. They understand that this is a societal problem.
Communities control crime. Individuals control crime.
You and your friends are responsible if you sexually abuse someone and everyone jokes about it. Such acts need to be condemned.
I have sat in domestic violence classes where offenders insist that have the right to respond physically. I attended focus groups of offenders where most participants felt that violence was a justifiable tool.
And yes, in all groups of offenders I witnessed, cooperation with law enforcement was discouraged.
Yes, I dislike cops who make stupid decisions. Yes, I believe that communities who blame cops for their problems are avoiding their responsibility as citizens.
We need to live in a world of mutual respect and accountability where women need not fear, where children are safe, and the rest of us go in peace.
We are the final arbitrators as to whether or not that happens.
Several of the examples in this article come from The Crime Report.
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. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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