Explaining away the new crime wave

“The reactive policing of the early 1990s was easy,” Lou Turco, president of the Lieutenants Benevolent Association in New York City, told me in an interview. “You waited for a complainant to tell you that they’ve been a robbery victim. The hard thing is to get someone off the corner before there’s a victim.” It is this proactive policing, when there is no complainant, that can get you in trouble now, Mr. Turco says. “Every cop today is thinking: ‘If this stop turns bad, I’m in the mix.’ ”

An officer in South Central Los Angeles described the views of his fellow cops: “Guys and gals in coffee shops are saying to each other: ‘If you get out of your car, you’re crazy, unless there’s a radio call.’ ”

One would think that cop critics would celebrate this drop in self-initiated police activity, which Radley Balko calls “dehumanizing.” They can’t have it both ways: Denouncing the police for proactively enforcing the law, then accusing them of a “dereliction of duty,” in Charles Blow’s words, when they quite understandably decrease such enforcement.

Many residents of high-crime areas don’t look at proactive and public-order enforcement the way their alleged advocates do. In a recent Quinnipiac poll of New York City voters, 61% of black respondents said they wanted the police to actively enforce quality-of-life laws in their neighborhood, compared with 59% of white voters.