Crime And Policing

I keep harping on the difference between “what” and “how”–and the too-often-unrecognized importance of “how.” I’ve been frustrated, for example, by public reactions to recent Supreme Court decisions that have largely focused upon agreement or disagreement with the holdings– ignoring the Court’s far more concerning willingness to break Constitutional rules about standing and jurisdiction.

That tendency to focus on the “what”rather than the “how” also characterizes most public debates about crime. Most pundits begin with the assumption that public safety requires more policing, and even critics of police misbehavior rarely dispute that assumption. They just want better hiring and training practices.

So I was fascinated by a New York Times essay by noted legal scholar Radley Balko titled “Half the Police Force Quit; Crime Dropped.”

Balko began with what we all know–the horrific incidents that have become common are not the result of “rogue” officers–they reflect institutional cultures.

In a staggering report last month, the Department of Justice documented pervasive abuse, illegal use of force, racial bias and systemic dysfunction in the Minneapolis Police Department. City police officers engaged in brutality or made racist comments, even as a department investigator rode along in a patrol car. Complaints about police abuse were often slow-walked or dismissed without investigation. And after George Floyd’s death, instead of ending the policy of racial profiling, the police just buried the evidence.

The Minneapolis report was shocking, but it wasn’t surprising. It doesn’t read much differently from recent Justice Department reports about the police departments in Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Ferguson, Mo., or any of three recent reports from various sources about Minneapolis, from 2003, 2015 and 2016.

Balko points to a common response by many in law enforcement: all this criticism is preventing police from doing their jobs “right.” Many officers- defeated and demoralized–quit. Fewer police, more crime.

Lying just below the surface of that characterization is a starkly cynical message to marginalized communities: You can have accountable and constitutional policing, or you can have safety. But you can’t have both.

As Balko notes, calls for more police fail to take into account the ways in which police brutality and misconduct erode public trust, and how that erosion of trust affects public safety. He then points to the experience of a prosperous Minneapolis suburb.

Golden Valley is 85 percent white and 5 percent Black — the result of pervasive racial covenants.

“We enjoy prosperity and security in this community,” said Shep Harris, the mayor since 2012. “But that has come at a cost. I think it took incidents like the murder of George Floyd to help us see that more clearly.” The residents of the strongly left-leaning town decided change was necessary. One step was eliminating those racial covenants. Another was changing the Police Department, which had a reputation for mistreating people of color.

Golden Valley hired a high-ranking Black policewoman and a Black Chief of Police, prompting members of the overwhelmingly white police force to quit — in droves. And police unions continue to warn officers against joining the Golden Valley force, despite excellent pay and a relatively low crime rate.

What happened after the police force lost some half of its officers?

Crime declined.

Balko concedes that Golden Valley is far from a perfect model; it’s a wealthy community with very little crime. But he also notes that its experience isn’t unique, either.

When New York’s officers engaged in an announced slowdown in policing in late 2014 and early 2015, civilian complaints of major crime in the city dropped. And despite significant staffing shortages at law enforcement agencies around the country, if trends continue, 2023 will have the largest percentage drop in homicides in U.S. history. It’s true that such a drop would come after a two-year surge, but the fact that it would also occur after a significant reduction in law enforcement personnel suggests the surge may have been due more to the pandemic and its effects than depolicing…

At the very least, the steady stream of Justice Department reports depicting rampant police abuse ought to temper the claim that policing shortages are fueling crime. It’s no coincidence that the cities we most associate with violence also have long and documented histories of police abuse. When people don’t trust law enforcement, they stop cooperating and resolve disputes in other ways. Instead of fighting to retain police officers who feel threatened by accountability and perpetuate that distrust, cities might consider just letting them leave.

In Indianapolis, the Republican candidate for mayor is basing his campaign largely on his “plan” to improve public safety–a plan to hire more police officers and to “let them do their jobs.”

He clearly doesn’t understand that we won’t get to “what”–less crime–unless we address the importance of “how.”


  1. Why do they really want more officers? Public safety! But not really. They just want those extra officers to crack down on and terrorize all those “other” people that they don’t like.

    Here’s something that’s odd to me. When I describe the policies I want to others, I am honest about the reasons I like the policies and how I envision them working. (Why be honest? First, it’s my nature. Second, the policies and reasons are laudable.) However, it seems to me that the right is rarely honest in this regard. Why hate gay people? Save the children! (Real reason: Those people seem so strange to me, and the bible tells me to hate them.”) Why ban “CRT” and books? Save the children! (Real reasons: hurt education, discourage tolerance, encourage division, hurt those groups we hate.) Why make voting harder? Election integrity! (Real reason: stop “other” groups from voting.) And there are so many more…

    Why do they do this? Because they know the real reasons make them look terrible. And you only hide this way when you know that your reasons not only look terrible, but _are_ terrible. So you pretend it’s about other reasons. It’s actually really disgusting.

  2. Let’s look at the criminal situations before they reach the “horrific” level. Personal Protective Orders filed and acted on by Judges in our court systems are merely a piece of paper which would be put to better use by swatting flies. Police Officers do not pick up the person named in the order when they receive calls that they have again been repeatedly threatened or frightened by the named defendant. An officer might show up but will tell the victim that if they pick up the person ignoring the court order, it is a misdemeanor and if arrested they will be back on the streets in a matter of hours and will be madder and probably return to harm the victim. They need to see blood or a body to take action to uphold a valid court order. Police Officers frequently refuse to take a report or act on an obvious violent crimes with a bloody, injured victim so the attacker appears to be innocent due to no previous reports or arrests. This is not only situations of white officers vs. black suspects; I have a past very ugly family situation with white officers who had access to former violence reports against a white man with white victims, including small children (3 generations of my family) including their white German Shepard dog being maced inside my daughter’s home with all of the action in her front yard. The abuser was also there but ignored by police who stated if he had previously abused the victim, she should be used to it among smirking and laughing. It resulted in the bloody, hysterical victim being arrested, handcuffed and jailed, her 4 year old daughter taken by CPS with the child’s grandmother a licensed foster parent refused the right to take custody of her grandchild. It took hours for them to find where CPS had taken the frightened child. When the case was called in court the following morning there were no police officers and no arrest report filed. I retained my E-mail attempt to get help or public attention by Indianapolis Star reporters if anyone is interested.

    Going back to the early 1970s, an elderly man attempted to molest my 13 year old son who had worked for him for months, moving him and his wife into a nearby home, mowing his lawn, cleaning out the basement and garage so my son had no reason to be suspicious when asked to help move bedroom furniture. At that time Indianapolis had City and County Prosecutors; Police did arrest the man a few days later but soon released him because he had no previous criminal history. I called both Prosecutor’s Offices with the same result; the City Prosecutor was a personal friend so I called him at home and got the same excuse of no previous record. I asked how there could be a previous record when no one would file charges against him so the Prosecutor agreed to the arrest. On the 3rd trip to court there was a judge pro-tem sitting who laughed as my 13 year old son described what happened to him and how he escaped. The judge found the defendant guilty of attempted child molest, suspended his 30 DAY sentence and stated he believed the defendant’s behavior was perfectly normal because he was drunk, and maybe should seek alcohol treatment. The same refusal situation happened in the 1990s with Police, Prosecutor and CPS when my grandson was sexually molested repeatedly and they refused to charge and arrest the 17 year old molester. I lived in Florida at the time but, after attempts to seek help for him denied, I wrote a 13 page letter to Indiana’s U.S. Senator Richard Lugar whose office contacted Police, Prosecutor and CPS. I receive a letter from Senator Lugar within stating if no action was taken to contact him again. Action was taken and molester arrested but being under 18 years of age his records were sealed. After the trial I received letters from Prosecutor and CPS stating I had no right to contact Senator Lugar about the situation and received a call from Police. The molester is now a lifetime child molester register and I receive regular reports on his location.

    We cannot absolve the horrific abuses by police officers but maybe we should look further into the situations leading to those horrific situations to place blame where it has been ignored by authorities within the Criminal Justice System.

    How and where do we address the “how”?

  3. maybe a reface of the PD, like walking a beat and actully meeting with the citizen on everyday levels. damn,did i go back to when it worked. hard to respect maurauding black/white tanks with guestapo like tactics. seems we only recieved what we ignore. cops are suppose to serve and protect? seems more like self serving and lazy fare keeeping the unruly off their lawn. (street talk)
    in other words, bustin heads when they are distrurbed by the citizen. most cops are not bad,but they seem to stand around and watch while the other bad cop plays his trade. lack of contact with all citizens have only brewed what we see today. many sheriffs and pds, start life running the co jails etc. nothing like a recruit finding the only reason to be a cop is by what he sees in his first residency. game,,, now see what and how they train the law enforcement today, you will find its confidential. no citizen groups allowed…cop city anyone..

  4. I read that same essay. It was an amazing result and despite the blackballing by the police union, they are very happy with the hiring they have done because the effect of the police union has been to warn off the people the city was trying to avoid hiring in the first place.

  5. Maybe there was “less crime” with fewer police officers because there were fewer police officers to arrest people who commit crimes? I’m not convinced people were committing less crime b/c there were less police officers.

  6. Golden Valley average income is $105,000 and poverty is at 6%. Gimmie a break….

  7. John H.,

    I think you nailed it. These are Republican-inspired actions/comments/memes that are rooted in racism, fear, lust for power and classism. By letting the Republican camel’s nose under the tent, the community discords begin. Poverty. Inequality. Education destruction. Hopelessness.

    Add to that the fact that many – maybe the majority – of police recruits are ex-military. They’ve been trained to respond with excessive force reflexively as a matter of survival. What else would we expect?

  8. It would be very difficult to be a good cop surrounded by bad cops. Report an officer you have to depend on for backup? That could be suicidal. Police corruption is long-standing and widespread. It grows like a cancer and will probably always be a threat under either Republican or Democratic administrations. But I do agree that it fosters even more crime in any community, whether affluent or not. In affluent communities white collar crime would be more likely while poorer communities would experience more violence, but all of us suffer when police are the criminals. At least the current Democratic Party seems to be backing the kinds of policies designed to reduce the problem while Republicans favor cracking down only on the criminals who are not in uniform.

  9. Yes, JoAnn, the GQP folks lie almost all the time; hide their real agenda because they know
    it’s putrid. All the decades of claiming to be about “Family Values,” to be for “Law and Order,”
    and the like were nothing but working to pick the low-hanging fruit of easily malleable citizenry.

    In NYC, one of those BIG and Democratic cities that the right likes to pylori, crime went down.
    “Hiuh? Nah, we can’t accept that, it’s too woke!” So, they just ignore empirical evidence and
    go about business as usual.

  10. Bottom line is that people in heavily policed neighborhoods are more afraid of the police than of the thugs/dealers making life dangerous because they know that if they engage with law enforcement they become a target for intimidation and worse. The police officers may either ignore the intimidation or actively participate because they are corrupt.

    As we have seen over and over all over the country, minorities and women are almost always on the losing side of any engagement with police. They know that once the police are gone, they are exposed to retaliation and violence. After the fact, the damage is done. Can anyone really blame them for avoidance?

    I agree that too many law enforcement members come into the system from military backgrounds, are more likely to react with force and often are used to operating in an authoritarian system. The constant exposure to violence often has no outlet. PTSD has to be addressed among police. It is not a sign of weakness rather of strength and self-care as well as protecting the public.

  11. “It would be very difficult to be a good cop surrounded by bad cops. Report an officer you have to depend on for backup? That could be suicidal. Police corruption is long-standing and widespread.”

    Sharon; that is a frighting truth in this country today, founded on democracy and Rule of Law, upheld by our Constitution and its Amendments. Once a police officer, who has taken an oath to uphold the law and protect the public, overlooks their fellow officers criminal actions they become a criminal to, in fact protect their own lives, by aiding and abetting the criminal officer. It seems today the only only ones who are taking oaths and keeping those oaths are the Oath Keepers who being rounded up and imprisoned by DOJ for attempting to overthrow this government and all its laws. To quote Arte Johnson on “Laugh In”; “Veeeerrry interesting!” And to quote the King of Siam, “Is a puzzlement!”

Comments are closed.