Policing the Police

The rioting has ended in Baltimore, with the mobs apparently placated by the indictments of six police officers involved in the recent death of a suspect or simply worn out and stocked up on looted supplies, but the city’s violent problems continue. With the cops in retreat the crooks have been on such on rampage that Baltimore has suffered 38 murders this month, the latest victims being a 31-year-old woman and her seven-month-old child, and although it won’t likely receive the same attention as the riots it should be considered in the nation’s ongoing debate about policing in minority neighborhoods.
Thirty-eight murders in one mere month is a lot for even such a populous city as Baltimore, and there’s no arguing that it’s a mere coincidence the spree has taken place after those six officers were indicted, the entire force was subjected to a Department of Justice investigation, and public scrutiny was focused on the city’s law enforcement. There are doubtlessly bad police officers in Baltimore, and those six indicted officers might yet be proved among them, but given the recent events it is also to be expected that even the good ones are reluctant to risk the sort of policing that once kept the local crime to more reasonable levels. Arrests are down in the city, what policing still occurs is done despite threatening groups of onlookers, and the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police freely admits to feeling “under siege” and that “criminals are taking advantage of the situation since the unrest,” and that officers “are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty.”
The problem isn’t limited to Baltimore, though, because the same animus toward to police is common throughout the country. New York City elected a mayor who ran on a promise to end that city’s “stop-and-frisk” procedures and other aggressive law enforcement techniques, and he’s gained a national following despite the city’s 45 percent increase in murder since his election. There’s even talk of making him the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, and current frontrunner Hillary Clinton is already attempting to stave off the challenge by calling for an end to the “era of mass incarceration” and the other tough-on-crime policies that her husband and former President Bill Clinton once championed. With the highly-publicized deaths of black suspects in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, New York City, and Charleston, South Carolina grabbing most of the headlines, and the added murders in places such as Baltimore and New York City getting less attention, and the Department of Justice seeming more concerned with the former rather than the latter, the soft-one-crime approach suddenly seems ascendant.
By the time the next presidential election rolls around, however, we expect the proverbial pendulum might swing in the other direction. That tough-on-crime stance the Democratic front-runner’s husband was once compelled to champion during the crime wave of the ’90s resulted in a 20-year decline in the nation’s crime rate, to the point that the voters in jurisdictions such as New York City and Baltimore forgot how very dangerous the nation’s big cities once were, which is why the press is now more concerned with the inevitable and sometimes entirely fictitious (as in the case of Ferguson) misdeeds by the police, but a steady stream of dead mothers and their seven-year-old children will serve as a reminder of why we started locking up prisoners and throwing away the key and the indulging the sort of aggressive policing that transformed New York City from a cinematic post-apocalyptic wasteland into a vacation destination with one of the world’s lowest big-city crime rates. Baltimore’s consistently more progressive civic government never did achieve that level of tranquility, but we can hope that 38 murder victims, including a 7-year-old and his mother, will offer a persuasive perspective even to that town.
The rest of the country should take note, as well. The bad police should face the consequences for their misdeeds, but that must be achieved without making the good ones afraid to do their very important jobs. Any presidential candidate who takes a similar stand should have an advantage over those who are more concerned with the rights of criminals to commit crime without fear of the legal consequences.

— Bud Norman

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