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When Police Back Off, Streets Get Mean

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When Police Back Off, Streets Get Mean

Providence Journal November 8, 2015
Urban PolicyCrime
OtherCulture & Society

FBI Director James Comey has ignited a firestorm with his observation that violent crime is rising in many cities across the country and that the likely reason is a drop in pro-active policing. The strident reaction to his comments, not least from the White House, demonstrates how ideological the topic of policing and crime has become.

Comey merely confirmed the obvious in his remarks to the Chicago Law School on October 23. The Major Cities Chiefs Association met in an emergency session this August to discuss the homicide surge. Murders at that point were up 76 percent in Milwaukee, 60 percent in St. Louis, 56 percent in Baltimore, 47 percent in Minneapolis, and 36 percent in Houston, to name just a few locations.

Comey merely confirmed the obvious in his remarks... Murders at that point were up 76% in Milwaukee, 60% in St. Louis, 56% in Baltimore, 47% in Minneapolis, and 36 percent in Houston, to name just a few locations.

The New York Times reported in September that homicides in 35 big American cities were up 19 percent and that 62 percent of cities reported an increase in non-fatal shootings. The blog FiveThirtyEight looked at homicide data from most of the nation’s 60 largest cities in September and found a 16 percent rise. Comey’s statement that “most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase” is therefore hardly news.

It should also not be news that officers are backing off discretionary policing. The available data show a decline in police activity. In New York City, summons for low-level, quality-of-life offenses such as public urination and drinking — a prime gauge of pro-active enforcement — were down 26 percent in the first half of 2015; arrests in every crime category were down 15 percent as of last week. In Los Angeles, arrests are down 10 percent — even as violent crime is up 20 percent. Arrests dropped 56 percent in Baltimore in May following the anti-cop riots and the indictment of six officers for the death of drug dealer Freddie Gray. Arrests in St. Louis City and County dropped a third after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and resulting riots.

Officers across the country testify to their reluctance to engage. “I won’t get out of my car for a reasonable-suspicion stop; I will if there’s a violent felony committed in my presence,” an emergency-services cop in New York City told me in September, echoing numerous such testaments I have heard over the last nine months.

Officers are routinely surrounded by hostile, jeering crowds when they try to make an arrest in urban areas. Mayors have noted the results. “We have allowed our police department to get fetal,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during an emergency crime meeting of police chiefs and mayors in Washington this October.

The idea that Obama knows more about crime patterns and policing than the FBI director is ludicrous; the one with a “political agenda” here is Obama...

And yet, Comey’s comments, amply backed up by evidence, have landed him in hot water. Most remarkably, President Barack Obama had the temerity to accuse him of shoddy, biased analysis.

“We do have to stick with the facts,” Obama told the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago last week, in a thinly veiled rebuke to Comey. “What we can’t do is cherry-pick data or use anecdotal evidence to drive policy or to feed political agendas.”

The idea that Obama knows more about crime patterns and policing than the FBI director is ludicrous; the one with a “political agenda” here is Obama, who has spent the last two years disseminating the dangerous lie that the criminal justice system is racially biased.

Other longstanding cop critics have been just as dismissive, simultaneously denying that there is a crime increase, that officers are reluctant to engage, and that their reluctance has anything to do with the allegedly non-existent crime increase.

[Critics] have spent the last year charging that pedestrian stops and quality-of-life enforcement oppress minority communities. The police have gotten the message and are doing much less of both.

The critics’ hostility to acknowledging the decrease in pro-active policing at first blush seems puzzling. After all, they have spent the last year charging that pedestrian stops and quality-of-life enforcement oppress minority communities.

The police have gotten the message and are doing much less of both. You would think this would be a welcome development to the anti-cop Left. Instead, its members vehemently deny that officers are backing off. Why? Because the resulting crime increase shows that policing does, in fact, lower crime.

When officers disengage, the result is not a boon for black lives, as the Black Lives Matter movement would predict. Rather, criminals become emboldened, leading to this year’s bloodbath, whose victims have been almost exclusively black and, far too often, children and innocent bystanders.

To be sure, crime has not risen yet to the levels of the early 1990s, as Obama and other Comey critics point out. Pace Obama, that is hardly a refutation of what I and others have called the “Ferguson effect.”

To be sure, crime has not risen yet to the levels of the early 1990s, as Obama and other Comey critics point out. Pace Obama, that is hardly a refutation of what I and others have called the “Ferguson effect.”

Crime dropped 50 percent nationally over the last two decades; it would be highly unusual to give back all that gain in a year. But a 16 percent homicide increase in at least 60 major cities is startling enough. If present trends continue, we will soon be back to the pervasive urban violence that FBI director Comey described so forcefully.

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