The dawn of a new year brings with it the inevitable calculations on which cities had rising or falling homicide and violent crimes rates and claims by public officials about why. The transition also offers a chance to look ahead while adjusting practices, and possibly rhetoric, in order to set a course that produces better results.
By Ron Hosko, LE Action President
In many American cities, the new year also provides another opportunity for the mayor, elected representatives or the police chief to beat their chest and proclaim a victory, even if a pyrrhic one; for others, a chance to explain what’s gone wrong and why.
Among notable crime declines in 2017 was in New York City, where the usually self-congratulatory liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, surprisingly credited the still-falling murder rate to increased community policing. De Blasio, residents, visitors, and businesses are all beneficiaries of a massive, well trained, and funded, professional police department.
New York was far from alone in seeing sagging murders and violent crime. Included in the year’s winners were Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., all of which unhappily bore the label of “murder capital” in the past.
Some cities had mixed results, including Los Angeles, where homicides fell but overall violent crime ticked up for the fourth year in a row, and still others brought in 2018 with more bad news.
Leading that pack was St. Louis, which passed 2016’s homicide count by November and has added to the grim tally every year since 2013; Philadelphia, which exceeded 300 murders for the first time since 2012, and bloody Baltimore, which set a city record for murders per capita. So bad was the Charm City’s deadly bloodshed that it exceeded that of New York City, with a population of 8.5 million, over 13 times Baltimore’s. Where is Vogue’s heroine, Marilyn Mosby, when we need her?
While the homicide news was mixed, other crime trends seemed to be pointed in the right direction. According to early Brennan Center estimates, violent crime nationally likely fell in 2017. If the estimates become the reality, the two year trend of rising murder rates and rising violent crime rates across the country will be mercifully reversed.
Police have also been preoccupied by attacks on themselves. In 2016, fatal attacks on law enforcement by gunfire rose over 50 percent from 2015. Included in those attacks were deadly encounters in Dallas and Baton Rouge which took the lives of eight officers and injured many others. Deadly gunfire attacks on law enforcement officers fell to 45 in 2017, another hopeful sign that the collective driving forces for anti-cop violence were somehow less successful.
Slipping violent crime and fewer deadly and violent attacks on police themselves are encouraging notes heading into the new year. Couple those with the changing rhetoric from the White House and the relative silence from the anti-cop Black Lives Matter during the Trump presidency and there’s plenty of room for optimism in 2018.
Add to it the police embrace of body worn cameras that hold the promise of increased transparency and accountability even as their impact on changing behaviors is questioned, rapidly expanding crisis intervention training of law enforcement in jurisdictions everywhere, and a move toward progressive approaches to addressing the mentally ill outside of arrest and incarceration, and policing has an inviting opportunity to remake an image that suffered since 2014.
Tough obstacles remain in the path. Sanctuary cities and states continue to put roadblocks in the federal effort to secure our borders and our neighborhoods from criminal illegal aliens. Politicians driving those policies foolishly place state and local law enforcement in the untenable position that pits federal enforcement against police rather than forging cooperation. And an opioid epidemic has gripped the country, posing legitimate questions about the value of aggressive enforcement versus compassionate treatment. As always, police are at the front edge of the opioid crisis response.
Finally, for anyone truly watching the policing profession since the deadly encounter between Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, there’s always a sense that we’re just one misinterpreted and misreported event away from another crisis. While America wants police to “get it right” every time, we also need the media to have that same goal. Too often, that hasn’t been the case as political biases have permeated a once-trusted vocation that can conspire to crush anything in its path.
A profession of some 800,000 armed men and women will always face difficult challenges. Policing themselves should always be included in their priorities. And, as local, state, and federal governments examine the policing trials and tribulations of the last three years, they must evaluate their own commitment before the next crisis. Thoughtful investment in the law enforcement workforce is a better option than waiting for a watershed incident and then playing catch-up.
Policing in 2018 starts in a better place than 2017 began. Let’s hope resolutions for greater success and increased trust in police become a reality.