2015 in review: The year of de‑policing
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Ask any law enforcement officer what the best word to describe 2015 was, and the answer would likely be "de-policing." Several controversial shootings in the past few years have more or less culminated into active de-policing — an act that is leading to a rise in crime statistics across the country.
The vitriol toward the police in both social media and the national media has resulted in deadly hesitation in the face of doubt, just when proactive policing is needed. Experts now point out how these troubling trends are not only encouraging lawlessness but also affecting officer safety. Officers are becoming more scared of the aftermath of a deadly force encounter than the encounter itself.
With tragic mass shootings added to the mix, one can imagine the fine line between officer responsibility and officer response in every situation. Anti-cop rhetoric became quite a trend, not just for the protestors, but for the media and politicians as well.
The result is a rise in that deadly hesitation. Many have started calling it the "Ferguson effect," after the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the riots that followed. An increasing number of subsequent incidents show officers failing to use justifiable force when deadly force is needed.
They are afraid of too many things — of being labeled a fascist or a racist, of losing their jobs or facing a lawsuit, of becoming the next YouTube villain — all seemingly more risky than dying at the hands of an assailant. This is what law and order has come down to today.
Heather MacDonald's piece "In Denial About Crime" created quite a stir and brought the de-policing debate out in the open. In response to reports of crime control from the Brennan Center for Justice and other liberal groups, her report and confirmation of the Ferguson effect was a stark wake-up call. The murder and shooting spikes in many American cities is real, ebbing of proactive policing is happening, and criminals are definitely feeling emboldened.
One can choose denial and be clueless like many others in the media, but the harmful effects will be felt by all. It has raised pertinent questions about crime and policing, about unprovoked sudden ambush attacks and assaults on officers, about their hesitation to act in order to avoid ending up in media only to end up in the morgue.
The practice of de-policing is now seen in agencywide directives. An increasing number of officers — reluctant to use force when force is necessary — are hesitant to approach unsavory individuals on the streets, to even conduct field interviews or gather investigative information. Some departments have issued directives that officers no longer have to initiate traffic stops for minor infractions like broken headlights or tail lights, incidents that have often led to stopping more serious crimes.
Along with rise in crime, experts are also worried this may lead to increased frustration and demotivation for the officers. The combination of the former trend with the latter emotions could be deadly indeed, and ultimately it will be the innocent public who will suffer.
While there is no empirical evidence yet to support the "Ferguson effect," according to a study published by the American Psychological Association, it is quite real.
Participants, all sworn deputies, admitted the negative media publicity, social media protests and overall public perception have made them less proactive on the job. However, the report also showed that perceptions of departmental fairness, support from their superiors and confidence in their authority as a police officer could go a long way to combat these issues.
If these trends continue, criminals will be emboldened to commit more crimes. The scary question for 2016 is, will it be the year of the criminal? To prevent criminals from creating anarchy there has to proper policing. But if officers' hands are tied, how can we expect the police to function?
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