Stop treating police as racist and pushing lower hiring standards as a way to achieve ‘diversity.’
Donald Trump’s promise to restore law and order to America’s cities was one of the most powerful themes of his presidential campaign. His capacity to deliver will depend on changing destructive presidential rhetoric about law enforcement and replacing the federal policies that flowed from that rhetoric.
The rising violence in many urban areas is driven by what candidate Trump called a “false narrative” about policing. This narrative holds that law enforcement is pervaded by racism, and that we are experiencing an epidemic of racially biased police shootings of black men.
Multiple studies have shown that those claims are untrue. If there is a bias in police shootings, it works in favor of blacks and against whites. Yet President Obama has repeatedly accused the police and criminal-justice system of discrimination, lethal and otherwise. During the memorial service for five Dallas police officers gunned down in July by an assassin who reportedly was inspired by Black Lives Matter, Mr. Obama announced that black parents were right to “fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door”—that the child will be fatally shot by a cop.
The consequences of such presidential rhetoric are enormous, especially when amplified by the media. Officers working in high-crime areas now encounter a dangerous level of hatred and violent resistance. Gun murders of officers are up 68% this year compared with the same period last year.
Police have cut way back on pedestrian stops and public-order enforcement in minority neighborhoods, having been told repeatedly that such discretionary activities are racially oppressive. The result in 2015 was the largest national homicide increase in nearly 50 years. That shooting spree has continued this year, ruthlessly mowing down children and senior citizens in many cities, along with the usual toll of young black men who are the primary targets of gun crime.
To begin to reverse these trends, President Trump must declare that the executive branch’s ideological war on cops is over. The most fundamental necessity of any society is adherence to the rule of law, he should say. Moreover, there is no government agency today more dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter than the police.
The nationwide policing revolution that originated in New York City in 1994—based on proactive enforcement—saved thousands of minority lives over 20 years, and provided urban residents with newfound freedom. While police agencies and their local overseers must remain vigilant against officer abuses, the federal government will no longer deem cops racist for responding to community demands for public order.
Mr. Obama’s Justice Department has imposed an unprecedented number of federal consent decrees on police agencies, subjecting those agencies to years of costly federal monitoring, based on a specious methodology for teasing out alleged systemic police bias. The department assumes that police activity like stops or arrests will be evenly spread across different racial and ethnic populations unless there is police racism. So if police stops are higher among blacks, say, the police, according to this reasoning, must be motivated by bias.
But this analysis ignores the large racial differences in offending and victimization rates. Policing today is data-driven: Cops go where innocent civilians are most being preyed upon—and that is in minority neighborhoods. Under a Trump administration, police activity should be evaluated against a benchmark of crime, not population ratios.
The next administration should continue the new FBI initiative to collect and publish data on all officer use of force. But such information must be accompanied by information on local crime rates, since police force will occur most frequently where cops encounter armed and resisting suspects.
The next U.S. attorney general—Mr. Trump has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions—should articulate the standards that will guide Justice Department lawyers in opening a civil-rights investigation of a police department, a process that has been shrouded in mystery.
An October purge in New York City illustrates why it is so important to appoint a leader for the Justice Department’s civil rights division who understands the realities of crime and policing. FBI agents and federal prosecutors based in New York had been investigating whether to criminally indict a New York police officer for the 2014 death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner; the agents and lawyers had found little ground for doing so. Their reluctance to indict did not sit well with the Washington-based attorneys in Justice’s civil rights division. So U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch removed the New York team and replaced them with attorneys from the civil rights division. The Trump administration should closely review whatever charges result.
Crime-fighting is overwhelmingly a local matter. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, however, U.S. attorneys and federal agents worked successfully with local police forces to prosecute violent street crime under strengthened federal penalties for gun offenses and drug trafficking.
In recent years, though, attention to violent crime has slackened in many federal prosecutors’ offices, not coincidentally as Mr. Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder were criticizing federal gun- and drug-crime sentencing for contributing to the “mass incarceration” of minorities. The next Justice Department should review whether federal law-enforcement personnel in the most crime-plagued cities such as Chicago should refocus on fighting gun violence.
The current Justice Department has ordered more than 28,000 federal law-enforcement officers and prosecutors into “implicit bias” training—a form of sensitivity re-education aimed at teaching police how to combat their own alleged subliminal bias. The new attorney general should cancel this initiative and lift the pressure on local police departments to put their own officers through this wasteful exercise.
In October, the Justice Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommended that police agencies lower their hiring standards—including requirements that applicants have a clean criminal record—to achieve “diversity.” The thinking behind this recommendation must be repudiated. Lowered hiring standards are a recipe for corruption and tactical errors. The The Justice Department’s own research in Philadelphia suggests that minority officers are more likely than white officers to shoot unarmed black males.
Mr. Trump has rightly observed that “crime and violence is an attack on the poor,” adding that such violence “will never be accepted in a Trump administration.” If President Trump can restore the legitimacy of lawful proactive policing, fewer Americans will have to accept a life bounded by fear.
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal
Photo by Getty Images / Andrew Burton