When I discuss law enforcement with others, they find it somewhat remarkable that cops throughout the country share a collective mindset.

There is no national police force, there is no national police academy. There is no national crime-fighting strategy. Every agency is free to police within the confines of state and national constitutions.

There are 900,000 cops serving 18,000 law enforcement agencies. How can there be a collective mindset encompassing officers from New York to Alaska?

Data offered from Pew (bottom) tells us that there is a national mindset among cops; “A large majority of U.S. police officers believe that many of their colleagues have cut back on stopping and questioning suspicious people,” Crime in America. There is greater caution among cops. Many believe that you don’t understand them and the jobs they do.

female police officers

Los Angeles police officers. (LAPD)

 

Complete Fiction

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 complete fiction.

Did Baltimore Kill American Policing?

It’s my contention that cops internalize the circumstances and actions taken around the country, especially in Baltimore. There was no evidence that the Baltimore officers involved did anything wrong regarding Freddie Gray.

Cops throughout the country said to themselves, “If they are charging officers in Baltimore with murder for something I do every day, they can do the same thing to me,” Crime in America.

The collective events in these cities and others (i.e., Chicago) had an impact on the rate of aggressive or proactive policing and consequently, had an impact on arrests and crime.

Data from the US Department of Justice ties proactive policing to crime reductions. Less than two in five reported crimes end in arrest, Crime in America.

Families told officer loved ones to get out of policing, and to get out now. Recruitment and retention are major problems, Crime in America

Crime continues to increase for a wide array of American cities. Fear of crime is now “the” top concern for Americans, Crime in America.

Yes, officers and their families are worried about their safety, Crime in America. Stress, PTSD, and suicides are major concerns, Crime in America.

Knowing this, why would anyone want to be a cop? Why would existing police officers stay on the job?

vox

New York police officers. (Screenshot New York Police Sergeant’s Benevolent Association video)

Conclusions

There is a collective mindset among American police officers as a result of endless criticism. Many are far less aggressive in their tactics; many are not engaging in proactive policing.

Many are questioning their commitment to law enforcement.

Violent crime continues to go up in many cities and Americans are more concerned than ever about crime, Crime in America.

While a national dialogue is necessary, and there are plenty of justifiable reactions to unnecessary police shootings and use of force, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Most cops are decent people trying to do a difficult job with as little friction as possible.

Per Gallup, the good news is that American support for police officers is at a peak, Crime in America.

Law enforcement needs to do much more as to publicizing the good acts of police officers.

We need to remember all of this as we move forward. Trust swings both ways. Cops expect and embrace accountability. But a little fairness and understanding would go a long way in restoring officer faith in American justice.

Pew Study (selected segments-rearranged for readability-source at the bottom)

A large majority of U.S. police officers believe that many of their colleagues have cut back on stopping and questioning suspicious people, according to a Pew Research Center survey that also found officers more worried about their safety and more concerned about using force as a result of high-profile incidents involving African-Americans and the police.

The survey of nearly 8,000 law enforcement officers from police and sheriff’s departments with 100 or more members was conducted by the center in mid-2016 in partnership with the National Police Research Platform. The results, published earlier this year, followed a series of officer-involved shootings of African-American suspects that prompted national demonstrations—as well as several attacks on police.

Overall, more than 4 in 5 officers (86 percent) said their work has become harder as the result of incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. The tension between police and the public after these episodes may have played a role in subsequent fatal attacks on officers in Dallas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and New York City.

“We found that police were really feeling the impact of all this,” says Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center and one of the authors of the report, Behind the Badge.

“I think one of the major contributions we made was to collect these data at a time when there was so much discussion and focus on the relationship between the police and the public,” Parker says. “Nobody had been able to collectively interview police in this way and find out how they were feeling.”

law enforcement hiring process

Boston Police Department recruit class 55. (Photo courtesy bpdnews.com.)

The report takes into account a similar survey by the center of more than 4,500 American adults. Taken together, the surveys reveal a wide gap between the way officers and the public view the practice of policing in contemporary America.

Jeff Hadley, chief of public safety in Kalamazoo, Mich., says “there’s certainly an argument to be made that officers are much more selective in their enforcement activities.”

“The events across the country can sway the mood and temperament and climate of officers and agencies instantaneously,” says Hadley, who is also an executive fellow at the Police Foundation, an independent Washington-based professional organization that seeks to improve policing through innovation and science (and the new home of the National Police Research Platform, which assisted in the survey). “When a Dallas or a Baton Rouge happens, everyone is questioning their own mortality and how they do their work and how they engage folks. And everyone is on edge.”

There’s no question that police have become more wary, said Frank Straub, director of strategic studies at the Police Foundation and a former law enforcement official in Indiana, New York, and Washington state.

“Officers probably aren’t going to come out and say this, but I think the reality in some cases is that officers are fearful of citizens they come into contact with,” Straub says. “I think they’re fearful if they have to go ‘hands on’ that it’s going to lead to disciplinary issues or charges being proffered against them. I think they are fearful of getting hurt, in all honesty.”

More than 8 in 10 officers say the public doesn’t understand the job they do and the hazards they face. However, a large majority of the public believes it does grasp what police are up against.

Most officers who participated in the survey said they feel that the public respects them and that they had been thanked for their service within the previous month. On the other hand, two-thirds said they had been “verbally abused” in that same period.

In addition to asking officers about their jobs, the researchers probed their opinions on a number of hot-button issues in American society, including marijuana laws, gun control, and undocumented immigrants.

A majority of officers (68 percent) favor easing some legal restrictions on marijuana, though the public is more likely than officers to support legalization for both recreational and medical use (49 percent of all Americans versus 32 percent of officers).

By and large, the survey showed, police feel deeply committed to their jobs.

Pew

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. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact him at [email protected].