An important article concerning the nexus in the Wall Street Journal by Heather Mac Donald, the best chronicler on criminal justice issues in the country today.
I recently observed in these pages that violent crime is rising sharply in many cities. Having spoken with police officers and commanders, I hypothesized that the growing reluctance of cops to engage in proactive policing may help explain the spike in violent crime. The past nine months have seen unprecedented antipolice agitation dedicated to the proposition that bias infects policing in predominantly black communities, a message echoed at the highest reaches of government and the media. Officers in urban areas are encountering high levels of resistance and hostility when they try to make an arrest.
Faced with the prospect of ending up in a widely distributed video if an arrest goes awry, and possibly being indicted, officers tell me that they are increasingly reluctant to investigate suspicious behavior. St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson last fall called the relationship between decreased enforcement and increased crime the “Ferguson effect.” I noted that if it continues the primary victims will be the millions of law-abiding residents of inner-city neighborhoods who rely on police to keep order.
A sharply critical response from some quarters greeted the article. It belonged to a “long line of conservative efforts to undermine racial equality,” wrote Columbia University law professor Bernard Harcourt in the Guardian, decrying the article as “crime fiction” intended to undermine “the country’s newest civil rights movement.” Charles Blow of the New York Times called me a “fear-mongering iron fist-er” who was using “racial pathology arguments” and “smearing the blood running in the street onto the hands holding the placards.” The article was part of a “growing backlash against police reform,” an attempt to “shame people who dare to speak up about police abuse,” wrote journalist Radley Balko in the Washington Post.
The police came in for criticism as well. Officers who are not doing what Mr. Blow calls “normal police work” simply because of protests against police brutality are acting unprofessionally, it was said—Mr. Balko called it being “too afraid or spiteful to do their jobs.”
Other writers challenged the focus on the multicity crime rise. Not every city was seeing a crime increase, some critics said—or at least not an increase in every category of crime. And whatever the increases, crime is still much lower than it was 20 years ago. In any case, critics argued, it was premature to draw conclusions about the significance or the possible causes of the crime rises; crime is predominantly a local phenomenon and naturally fluctuates over short periods.
These criticisms speak volumes about how activists, members of the media and many academics understand crime and policing.
It is true that violent crime has not skyrocketed in every American city—but my article didn’t say it had. It has gone up in enough places, though, and at startling-enough rates, to warrant close attention. Law-enforcement officials share that opinion. Police chiefs in New York and Los Angeles—the two cities paradoxically singled out by criminologist Franklin Zimring to dismiss the significance of the crime increases—have implemented extraordinary, manpower-intensive initiatives to quell gun violence. It is also true that a half-dozen months or so of rising crime are not going to wipe out the 20-year crime drop overnight. But as I noted, if that downward trend is now reversing itself, the reversal will happen in such increments as we are now seeing.
To be sure, crime fluctuates over short periods, and usually in response to local conditions. Ordinarily, the longer the span of data one has for assessing trends, the better. But in the present environment of nonstop animosity toward police nationally, with officers’ self-professed reluctance to engage reflected in a documented drop in stops and summonses, it is not too early to flag what might be going on. The claim that we are living through an epidemic of racist police killings rests on slimmer statistical evidence than the recent crime increases do.
Police are not backing off from what Mr. Blow and others presumably think of as “normal police work”: responding to 911 calls for emergency assistance. Officers continue to rush to crime scenes, sometimes getting shot at in the process. They are, however, refraining from precisely the kind of policing that many in the media, along with legions of activists, have denounced over the past year: pedestrian stops and enforcement of low-level, quality-of-life laws (known as “broken windows” policing).
Retrieved June 16, 2015 from http://www.wsj.com/article_email/explaining-away-the-new-crime-wave-1434319888-lMyQjAxMTI1MDE5NTExNzU3Wj