Did Baltimore Kill American Policing?
Police shootings, protests, and what it means for law enforcement, violent crime and politics.
The multitude of police shootings and enforcement actions echoed throughout the country and both police officers and the American public wrestled with the aftermath. For many, it began with Ferguson but for others, the real impact on American policing started with the indictment of six police officers in Baltimore.
While much of the attention went to police use of deadly force, in Baltimore, the thoughts of many American police officers focused on the indictments and their perception that the six officers were arrested for something that cops do every day. There is endless pressure in every community in America to get people like Freddie Gray out of neighborhoods, off the corner. He had an illegal knife. He was well known to law enforcement. He ran at the approach of police officers. The arrest was made and he was transported; Freddie Gray died after the transport.
Regardless of your view of the facts of the case, it wasn’t a cop pulling a trigger under questionable circumstances. It wasn’t officers beating the suspect before throwing him into a police van. The arrest mimicked the actions of cops throughout the country. Allegations as to giving a defendant a “rough ride” were never proven in court and there were a series of mistrials or not guilty verdicts before the State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all charges. The State’s Attorney is now being sued by the officers for illegal arrest and prosecution; a university professor offered charges for disbarment.
When I was a police officer, misdeeds or mistakes on the part of cops were explained away by saying to ourselves, “I would never make that mistake.” Whether it was an officer shot or doing the shooting, we always comforted ourselves with the “knowledge” that mistakes were something that happened to others, not us.
With the indictment of the six police officers in Baltimore and the seriousness of the charges, there wasn’t a cop in the country that was unaffected. All police officers internalized the indictments. All understood that the arrest and transportation of Freddie Gray was something they do every single day. “If cops in Baltimore could be arrested for homicide for what they did, then I could be indicted for the same thing,” they reasoned.
The view of cops in America, “If you are going to arrest me for doing something that I do daily, then I need to disengage. Who will do the job? America policing will die.”
Crime in America Increases
There has always been a debate as to the effectiveness of American policing tactics with endless number of criminologists suggesting that the role of police officers in lowering rates of crime was dubious at best.
But all agree that the complete absence of police officers would lead to increased crime. After Baltimore, have cops decided to hold back or disengage? Do we have the equivalent of officers melting away?
Since Ferguson and the arrests of the six police officers in Baltimore, crime has increased considerably throughout many (not all) American cities.
Violent crime is increasing throughout the Unites States. We predicted the increase for 2015, and we predict another increase in 2016. According to FBI data, it’s rare for the rate of violent crime to increase for one year only.
According to recent US Department of Justice funded data measuring murders in 56 cities, “…the homicide rise in 2015 in the nation’s large cities was real and, while not unprecedented, comparatively large. The average homicide increase over 2014 in the top ten was 33.3 percent, compared with a 16.8-percent rise for the sample as a whole.”
“One-year increases of this magnitude in the nation’s large cities, although not unknown, are very rare.”
Generally speaking, homicides and violent crime trendlines match over time. We note that additional, reputable sources are also stating that crime continues to rise in most cities.
Americans’ level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years, says a new Gallup survey. Fifty-three percent of U.S. adults say they personally worry “a great deal” about crime and violence, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2014. Gallup said the figure is the highest the firm has measured since March 2001.
Rising rates of violent crime are linked by many commentators (including the head of the FBI) to cops not willing to take risks. The inference is that officers are sitting back while they contemplate new careers or transfers to police departments or communities where, they believe, their role is supported.
The Facts of the Cases
The animosity regarding the above statements will come from all sectors accusing us of ignoring one of the most pressing social problems of our time to others who will insist that cops aren’t “holding back.”
It’s not our intention to reevaluate the social tensions between cops and minority communities or to reexamine whether Ferguson’s Michael Brown was a callous thug or a victim of police brutality or if Baltimore’s Freddie Gray was or was not legally arrested or properly transported.
For some, the indictment of the officers in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray case was an unethical, illegal, crass move to make a political statement that completely disregarded human rights and the US Constitution.
For others, it’s a righteous proclamation of power to address and rectify endless inequities within our criminal justice system.
We can argue the points of both cases endlessly, but that does not change the fact that tens of thousands of additional victims have been shot, hurt or murdered since in American cities via an increase in violent crime. The riots in Baltimore and Ferguson will have an impact on image, jobs and economic investment for decades to come.
We recently offered an article titled, “Don’t be A Cop?” at http://www.crimeinamerica.net/2016/06/29/dont-be-a-cop/ where we addressed the impact of protests, the willingness of people to be police officers, and the resulting unprecedented rise in homicides and violent crime throughout the country.”
From the article, “Anyone who follows criminal justice news on a daily basis knows that there are dozens of newspaper articles focusing on the problem of recruiting police officers.
As one commentator stated after the indictment of six police officers in Baltimore after riots pertaining to the Freddie Gray case, “Every wife and girlfriend, every husband and boyfriend is telling their loved one’s to get out of the Baltimore City Police Department, and to get out now.”
Similar conversations are happening in other cities.
We note that Baltimore now has the largest growth in homicides of the cities measured by recent US Department of Justice funded data. Rising rates of homicides and violence are happening in many cities throughout the country.”
As we received the news of the eight Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers murdered, that act of husbands and wives asking, “Is being a cop really worth it?” is being repeated throughout the country.
“As people nibbled cupcakes topped with small American flags, Hanaway,” (editor’s note-running for the Republican nomination for governor) “painted a picture of violence and decline every bit as dark as the vision Donald Trump had delivered in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland a day earlier. Then she brought it home. “I think it started in Ferguson,” she says.”
“Nationally, “Ferguson” has become a byword for a new American civil rights movement. The protests that followed the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by a white police officer, marked the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement…”
“But for many people in Missouri, especially the approximately 600,000 Republicans who expect to vote in the GOP primary Tuesday, the lesson of Ferguson is not that the police used too much force, it’s that it used too little. Ferguson, to them, was an embarrassment: preventable chaos that tarnished the name of the otherwise orderly St. Louis suburbs.”
Story of the Year?
Is the debate over American policing the domestic story of the year beyond the election? Did Baltimore kill American Policing? Will violent crime continue to rise?
Will national and local politics continued to be influenced by all of the above?
We have offered our own solutions throughout Crime in America.Net but resolutions seem impossible as segments of society square off.
But a reactionary America gobbling up weapons for self-protection can politically replace “No justice-no peace” in a heartbeat if people feel that their safety is being threatened.
It may be wise for all parties to respect the opinions of everyone and work out meaningful solutions before a reactionary America overplays its hand.
It may be wise to reassure the overwhelming majority of good police officers as to what we want them to do and to establish firm rules of engagement. It just can’t be left to judges and juries to sort this stuff out. Not giving firm guidance to cops and indicting them afterward is cowardly. Until we do, violent crime will continue to increase if officers disengage.
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