Earlier this week, it was reported that an officer with the Chicago (IL) Police Department — who spoke to a local television news station anonymously and with a concealed face and voice — said that he is “more concerned about what the media is going to think about me, what they’re going to put on the news, or how I’m going to be portrayed as this evil person” than of being killed in the line of duty.
“There is some hesitancy on wanting to be aggressive and doing police work the way it needs to be,” he said.
This officer’s outlook on policing in America is not new — nor is it really news. His comments reflected a common concern among officers across the country. Police in a variety of places have talked about trepidation to act when action is the only reasonable response. They have spoken about fearing the aftermath of a deadly force encounter more than they do the incident itself.
This hesitancy has two serious ramifications. Officers are put in greater peril of injury or death. Innocent citizens are more likely to fall prey to the predators that prowl the streets.
We’ve seen officers literally retreat from potentially dangerous subjects.
Remember when an officer with the New Richmond (OH) Police Department backpedaled away from a rapidly approaching subject — who was not complying with the officer’s orders to take his hand from his pocket — ultimately tripping and falling to his back with his gun in his hand? That subject was known at the time to be suspected of killing his fiancée and his best friend.
We’ve seen officers recoil and fail to use force while under physical attack.
Remember when an officer with the Birmingham (AL) Police Department was disarmed and pistol-whipped by a convicted felon whose record included an attempted-murder charge, as well as convictions for robbery and assault? That officer later told CNN that he hesitated to use force because he didn’t want to be accused of needlessly killing an unarmed man.
Under Graham v. Connor, both of those incidents would have justifiably necessitated the use of deadly force.
In both cases, the officers involved are lucky to be alive.
Unfortunately, those two officers are not alone in their reluctance to use force when force is necessary for their own safety.
Too many officers have been the victim of deadly hesitation.
Fear of a lawsuit does not mean you should be risking your life.
If you know your agency policy, have a solid understanding of Graham v. Connor and other major case law regarding the use of force and are up to date on your training, your day in court following a use-of-force incident will likely go your way.
Citing the “Ferguson Effect,” the anonymous Chicago officer told CBS News that police have retreated from the practice of proactive policing, causing a subsequent increase in crime in some areas.
In fact, in places like Chicago, Baltimore, and other places where use-of-force cases have caused violent protests and confrontations with police, the practice of proactive policing is in danger of becoming lost to history.
In some places police have essentially forfeited the streets, responding to calls only when someone has the temerity to call 911 and ask for help. Traffic stops have become a rarity, as have field interviews and Terry stops.
It is no surprise, then, that violent crime is rampant in some of those places.
In Chicago, the breezes coming in from Lake Michigan now carry more bullets than ever. Over the past weekend, at least 37 people were struck by gunfire in the Windy City, according to the Chicago Tribune.
What’s remarkable about that statistic is that it is roughly half of the number of people shot the previous weekend, when at least 74 people were struck by gunfire.
On August fifth alone, at least 47 were hit by gunfire, 40 of them during a seven-hour period, according to the Trib.
In Chicago, 335 people have been killed this year.
In Baltimore, police officers “in nearly every part of the city appeared to turn a blind eye to everyday violations” with the number of potential violations they proactively pursued dropping by almost half, according to USA Today.
“From 2014 to 2017, dispatch records show the number of suspected narcotics offenses police reported themselves dropped 30 percent,” USA Today reported. “The number of people they reported seeing with outstanding warrants dropped by half. The number of field interviews — instances in which the police approach someone for questioning — dropped 70 percent.”
This year, 180 people have been killed in Charm City.
Nature hates a vacuum. When the police exit the arena, the bad guys enter it — that’s just simple physics.
Prosecutors — elected officials who want to win re-election — are under increasing pressure to bring charges against officers who are doing their jobs within agency policy and established legal precedent.
This does a lot to de-motivate officers from going out and looking for trouble.
Unfortunately, in today’s anti-police climate, there may be no way out of this downward spiral until crime gets so bad that city streets look like the studio set of a Mad Max movie. Perhaps when anarchy truly sets in, the people, the press, and the politicians who have handcuffed their police will change their tune.
However, when we have a sitting United States Senator — and a potential Democratic presidential candidate — stating that the American criminal justice system is “racist … front to back,” we’ve clearly got an uphill slog in changing the narrative.
I’m not saying we should stop trying — quite the opposite.
We need to be redoubling our efforts to re-establish proactive policing and aggressive crime fighting. The overwhelming majority of people out there are innocent of criminal activity — they are often the victims of it — and they deserve the best police service possible.
I concede that when you look up at the scoreboard — to use a sports analogy — it’s a little difficult to visualize victory.
In the meantime, keep your head held high.
Do your best to do your job to the best of your ability.
If you’re doing the right things at the right times and for the right reasons, you will — hopefully — come out on top, no matter what the situation.
Stay safe out there.
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