Amid rising crime, police are 'very nervous' about being proactive on the streets

AP Photo/John Minchillo

A story CNN published yesterday sets the tone. Reporters spent two nights on patrol with the NYPD and described cops who are concerned about violence spiraling out of control:

“I grew up in the South Bronx. I’ve never seen this,” Officer Yesenia Rosado told CNN…

“It sucks to see 16-year-old kids shooting and killing each other,” said Officer Katherine Torres. “And that’s what we do see a lot of here. We have 16-year-olds with robbery patterns and murder charges and it’s like they didn’t actually get to be kids.”

As for what’s causing the violence, the NY Times and other outlets have focused on the pandemic lockdowns and sometimes even failed to consider the impact that anti-police protests which erupted last summer after the death of George Floyd may have had. But the commander of the 46th precinct tells CNN that the national discussion has set a tone which emboldens the worst elements in the community:

“I will say words matter,” Inspector Joseph Seminara, commanding officer of the 46th Precinct, told CNN. “I think a lot of the small element here, that’s making quality of life miserable for the hard-working community, feel emboldened that it’s okay to ignore a lawful command by the police. It’s okay to fight the police. Words matter.”

The growing animosity creates real dangers for these officers on the beat.

“We’ve had people threaten us, you know, threaten to kill us, threaten to kill our families,” Officer Rosado told me. “‘I hope your family dies. I hope your family gets raped.’ You know like, stuff like that, that we’re supposed to brush off. “

Today CNN published a follow-up piece which once again looks at why police think violent crime is up around the country. The answer they got points to the Ferguson Effect, i.e. police are pulling back because they know that right now the public does not have their backs.

“You just have to be honest and say that police in America are far more cautious today about stopping someone than they were a year ago,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group. “Proactive policing is much more complicated. And now we’re in the post George Floyd era, which makes police understandably cautious.”…

“The national mood is not sympathetic to the police,” Wexler said. “I think we’ll find balance down the road. We always do. But right now there’s trepidation about proactive police work.”

As an example, Chicago initiated a new foot chase police in the wake of the shooting of Adam Toledo. The new policy says that police are not allowed to chase suspects in certain circumstances and that they can’t be held accountable for failing to do so. So chasing a suspect could bring consequences for the officer but doing nothing is perfectly safe. Wexler, the policy group director says there’s a pretty clear message to cops:

He asked, “Between prohibiting foot chases in Chicago, and pretty much excluding enforcement of offenses in Philadelphia, what’s that message saying to the average cop on the street?”…

Law enforcement bosses are dealing with “a work force that is very nervous about engaging for fear that … someone resist in some way,” Wexler said. “There seems to be more caution than ever. That’s the dilemma.”

The President of the Police Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said at this point it’s not just that police are pulling back it’s that lawmakers have ordered them back:

“In New York City, lawmakers have decriminalized quality-of-life offenses, restricted the use of ‘proactive’ policing tactics and effectively ended the prosecution of many low-level crimes,” he said. “At this point, there is nothing left for police officers to ‘step back’ from. We are doing the job exactly as our elected leaders have asked us to do it. They will have to answer for the results.”

Of course, quality of life crimes aren’t the same thing as shootings and murder but from the police perspective, the two are often linked. If people feel they can ignore police or even be hostile toward them for when it comes to quality of life crimes, that sets a tone for other more serious crimes. And those more serious crimes can lead to a cycle of street justice which is based on the idea that police are completely off limits and out of the loop.

Politico reports that the surge of violence has mayors around the country begging the White House for help. President Biden is set to announce some sort of plan to deal with it today, It sounds like the plan is to focus on illegal gun sales. Maybe that will have an impact over time but it’s hard to see how it’s going to stop what many worry is going to be a hot, violent summer in America’s cities. At some point, progressive mayors, city council members and even the White House will have to decide to either support the police or support the anti-police elements in their party. The crime stats are a clear indicator that you can’t do both.