A little over two years ago, in August 2013, I wrote an article in which I both scolded and warned the public, the pundits, media types, politicians and, specifically, the ACLU about their negative and incendiary rhetoric toward the police in New York City and law enforcement in general. Their hysterical rhetoric was, at the time, aimed at the court-sanctioned practice referred to as “stop-and-frisk.”
The elites were up in arms about the police using this tactic in high-crime areas where drugs and guns are prevalent. Some referred to the practice as unconstitutional, while others labeled the police as the modern-day Gestapo (the sadistic secret police of Nazi Germany). And, of course, many believed the practice and real motives of the police were based on racism.
Bill DeBlasio guaranteed that he would curb the police and stop-and-frisk would be no more if he was elected mayor of New York. And he was.
It seemed as though no one in NYC wanted the cops to be proactive anymore.
No one except … many of the citizens who actually lived in the Big Apple. An October 2013 Quinnipiac University poll revealed that public safety was uppermost on the minds of voters. When asked which was more important, keeping crime rates down or reforming stop-and-frisk, 62% said keeping crime rates low. Only 30% said reforming stop-and-frisk.
Because the citizens, especially those living in high-crime areas, experience the crime, suffering and pain inflicted by criminals who flout the law and prey on the weak. To the people in “police-occupied” neighborhoods, stop-and-frisk was a law enforcement practice that saves lives.
This, of course, didn’t matter to those who aren’t at risk. They continued demonizing the police. So I offered a solution on how to eliminate the complaints. All the police had to do was stop working!
In that article, I tried to explain that for the cops themselves, there would be no downside to this tactical change.
Because police officers don’t get fired for not doing, they get fired for doing.
Cops know there’s virtually no risk in getting fired for a process of lousy work and inactivity over a 10-year period. The risk for discipline and perhaps termination comes from being proactive.
Most citizens don’t know this, but P# 15111 there are laws on the books in most states that forbid police supervisors from establishing quotas to be met. In other words, you can’t legally make police officers write tickets and stop suspicious people.
Officers all around this country know all too well that if they simply answer 9-1-1 calls, drive around aimlessly on their patrol beats and avoid self-initiated activity, they’ll still get paid. Hell, that philosophy may get them promoted!
Well, a lot has happened since the summer of 2013 — Ferguson, Eric Garner, Baltimore and Freddie Gray — and the media have reacted and so have the cops.
For the past six to eight months, there’s been debate about whether this stop working philosophy is actually happening. Have cops taken a less proactive approach?
A Rise in Crime
What we do know is this: Violent crime rates are up in many of the major cities; they rose 13% in Los Angeles over last year, homicides were up 54% in Washington, D.C., in 2015, and Baltimore? That city is the deadliest it’s ever been.… It’s a bloodbath, a cruel bloodbath across America’s urban centers. Does it have anything to do with police officers ignoring suspicious people and questionable activity?
Of course it does.
I live right outside of Chicago, a city that saw nearly 3,000 people shot last year, 470 of them fatally. It’s the worst in years. I’ve talked to police officers, including supervisors in two Chicago suburbs as well as in the city of Chicago, and what I’m hearing is that I was quite the prognosticator a year and a half ago.
Illinois just passed a series of laws under the heading “Police and Community Relations Act.”
It should have been titled “The Police Are All Bad, We Know It, So We Are Going to Blame Them for Everything and Eliminate Any Desire in Them to Be Proactive.”
But that would be kind of long, I guess.
One supervisor for a suburban department sent me a 30-page training guide that teaches cops the new laws on how to conduct an investigatory stop. It demands that they articulate — in writing, on the spot and to the person stopped — why they thought the person was suspicious. If they conduct a pat-down, they have to explain not just why they thought the subject might be in possession of a weapon (as required by case law), but why the officer thought that he or she, or others, might become a victim of an imminent attack.
Then, after the encounter is over, the officers have to give the stopped person a receipt with all that information on it, along with a phone number to call if they want to complain about the officer.
Then — I’m not kidding — the officers have to fill out a form for the Illinois Department of Transportation with the following information on it: 1. The gender, and the officer’s subjective determination of the race, of the person stopped. The subject’s race shall be selected from the following list: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or White; 2. All the reasons that led to the stop; 3. The date and time of the stop; 4. The location of the stop; 5. Whether or not a protective pat-down or frisk was conducted of the person, and if so, all the alleged reasons that led to the protective pat-down or frisk, and whether it was with consent or by other means; and …
I’m tired of typing. But there are five more of these bullet points.
So I asked this commander how many of these cards had been completed in the first 14 days of 2016. His answer?
“One.” And then he laughed and said, “I’m not expecting a whole lot more. The law, as of last year, is that we can’t make police officers write tickets. We can make them make a certain number of traffic stops, but we can’t tell them to enforce the traffic laws they stopped the motorist for.”
He admitted that tickets were significantly down, but he said it’s not just because of the law prohibiting us from making them write tickets; it’s because of the political climate. He said, “Every complaint becomes an internal investigation, which is a blemish on the officer’s record. And it’s a crapshoot as to who will investigate the complaint. So the incentive to be proactive is gone.”
In the city of Chicago so far in 2016, the number of investigative stops is down by about 80% compared to last year. According to an article written by Mark Konkol on January 13, “There has also been a 37% decline in gun arrests and a 35% decrease in gun confiscations compared to last year.… Meanwhile, there have been 72 more shootings (a 218% increase) and 10 more murders (a 125% spike) than during the same time period last year.”
You think there may be a correlation between media hype, political response, officer inactivity and the spike in crime?
Finally, I talked with a very aggressive, smart and motivated rookie cop in a Chicago suburb. Here’s his take: “The exact same thing is happening in our department. We only have a few officers who ride in two-man tactical cars. They’ve been identified to be the most aggressive/proactive officers we have and I’m honored to have been chosen to work with that group. But the truth is, we’re doing less.
“Officers don’t call most of their traffic and street stops out on the radio because they don’t want to do these bullshit stop sheets or do two pages of paperwork just because they thought they should talk with somebody who was acting suspicious,” he said. “Hell, we’d spend half our night in the station completing paperwork. We even hand people receipts after streets stops and occupied vehicle checks with our name, badge numbers and phone numbers so they can call if they’re unhappy.”
How’s that working?
“We’ve been getting complaints for nonsense, but the bosses still have to investigate us. A lot of guys just don’t think it’s worth risking their jobs, so many have just stopped. And there’s nothing the brass can do about it.”
And this is now the sad state of affairs in this country.
In order to have a protagonist, there has to be an antagonist. In this sad state of affairs, the cops are the bad guys and the criminals are the victims. Everyone from the president to the local editor of the suburban newspaper cites the truth about crime: It’s way down since 1990. Until now.
But can you figure out why? Because there are record numbers of bad guys in prison.
Now we want to let those misunderstood wayward souls out while at the same time we are demonizing and handcuffing the police. What do you think the end result for society will be?
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are about to find out.
Lieutenant Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Illinois, P.D. after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first commander of investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a B.A. in psychology and a master’s in law enforcement justice administration, and is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.