Progressive Policies Make Police Reform Harder

The criminal justice system in this country is a mess and “progressive” policies are making it worse.  I’ve long complained about police behavior that often reflects the attitude “I don’t just enforce the law, I am the law.”  Most officers are people of character who take the job seriously and work within the confines of the law and police protocols.  But enough don’t to give those who do a bad name and convince many everyday Americans that officers generally act as if they’re laws unto themselves.  “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride” is a saying far older than most of us.

Studies with which I’m familiar strongly suggest that those bad cops - the ones with multiple complaints from citizens - make up between 5% and 10% of the force and that they self-identify early in their careers.  (Unsurprisingly, Derek Chauvin was one of those bad cops and known to be so by his department.)  That gives departments the opportunity to intervene with retraining and the threat of discipline including discharge.  But they seldom do.  Weeding out those who use the badge to abuse the citizenry would go a long way toward improving police-community relations without compromising law enforcement.  So would simpler fixes like requiring police to wear body cameras during interactions with the public.

The police are unionized and collective bargaining agreements signed with cities are a major impediment to police reform, especially in the area of disciplining individual officers.  In Minneapolis, in the eight years prior to Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd, there’d been over 2,600 civilian complaints about officers, with a grand total of 12 that resulted in any form of discipline and none in which an officer lost as much as a penny of pay.  It’s exactly the type of situation that sensible reform advocates have been complaining about for decades with little result.

But, with the George Floyd murder, the usual calls for police reform went off the rails.  No longer would reasonable reform be sufficient.  No, the police must be defunded and replaced with, well, something else.  Progressive mayors in Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere eagerly embraced the new ideas, police duly backed away from enforcing the law and, in places, chaos verging on anarchy ensued -  rape and murder in Seattle’s CHAZ; arson in Minneapolis including the torching of a police precinct building that the police were instructed to not protect.  Murder rates spiked 30% in 2020, the largest increase ever recorded by the FBI.  Carjackings are up 85% in Philadelphia, 63% in Minneapolis and 55% in New York City.

District attorneys in progressive jurisdictions chipped in with their peculiar brand of lunacy.  Today they violate applicable laws by simply refusing to prosecute many crimes and otherwise follow legislative mandates, creating a kind of “free fire zone” in certain cities.  In San Francisco, you can help yourself to up to $900 worth of goods at any store and walk out with a smile for the “security” camera knowing that you will not be prosecuted.  In New York City, even armed robbery can now be overlooked by the DA’s office.  Los Angeles DA, George Gascón admittedly ignores a wide range of criminal activity.

Throughout it all, progressive activists and their mouthpieces in the news media, have kept up a steady drumbeat of often unhinged criticism both of actual police and the very concept of policing.  The result being that the job of law enforcement officer has suffered a precipitous decline in prestige and become significantly more dangerous than before.

So, if you’re a cop or considering becoming one, who needs it?  Who wants to be a cop when a few people with firearms consider you fair game and many others will feel free to denigrate you personally and the police generally?  Why go to the trouble to arrest someone who you know will be out on the street before you can complete the arrest paperwork and never charged with an offense.  You joined the force because you thought you could help the needy of your community, protect the vulnerable and make society a better place.  Now you’re a punching bag.  Sizeable portions of the population and the news media consider you the problem - not the gangsters, not the thugs or the rapists, you.

And now you notice something else: there are a lot of good jobs out there just begging to be filled, jobs with little or no risk, decent pay and some personal satisfaction.  What to do?  Surprise! - a lot of police are quitting.  That’s despite the fact that policing pays on average much better than other jobs with similar background requirements - $70,000 per year vs. $55,000.  Still, police departments are finding it hard or impossible to replace the lost manpower.  And fewer police mean more crime of all sorts including violent crime.  Plus, the decline in the number of police now means desperate cities are paying bonuses just to attract the few qualified applicants still willing to do the job.

In short, the progressive zeal to either do away with the police altogether or at least reduce their number has produced some remarkable consequences in addition to the rise in crime.  No. 1, for those qualified officers/recruits, it’s a seller’s market.  Cities are begging for warm bodies to fill the many available jobs, so inevitably they’ll bid up the price of those jobs.  No. 2, the officers who remain and their union representatives are well aware of No. 1.  They fully understand the increased power they have vis-à-vis the city governments with whom they bargain.  Given that increased power, what incentive do they have to make the real changes necessary to actually improve policing and police departments?  Why make it easier to discipline officers when doing so makes recruiting harder?  What bargaining power do cities have to make needed changes?  None that I can see.

In short, the American Left has managed to make police reform, for which they’ve long advocated, much more difficult than it was two years ago and it was far from easy then.  The type of reforms most Americans would likely support and that would do the most to improve policing and police-community relations are now all but impossible.  That’s true at a time when the crime rate is going through the roof, police manpower levels are down and declining, and the public purse is being drained in the effort to try to attract more recruits and retain existing officers.

It's a sort of sick genius, a virtuoso’s performance at shaping – dare I say it? – a progressively more dysfunctional society.



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