An article appearing today in Slate Magazine raises the critical issue we have been asking the last two days with ”Analysis Finds Little Evidence to Support a “Ferguson Effect” on Crime” and “Analysis: Police Themselves Are To Blame For Spike in Baltimore Crime.”
“You have a choice: You can have brutal, abusive policing. Or you can have no policing at all,” they write. “That’s the implied message from the Baltimore police officers engaged in a deliberate slowdown, which started after prosecutors charged six of their colleagues in the death of Freddie Gray. Across the city, residents say, there are fewer police on patrol, fewer cops on the corner, fewer people on the beat.”
Bottom line is this: “Less policing has meant more crime.
“For their part, police leaders say officers are still at work but fear prosecution and public attack,” Slate reports.
“What is happening, there is a lot of levels of confusion in the police organization,” explained Commissioner Anthony Batts at a City Council meeting last month. “There are people who have pain, there are people who are hurt, there are people who are frustrated, there are people who are angry. … There are people, and they’ve said this to me, ‘If I get out of my car and make a stop for a reasonable suspicion that leads to probable cause but I make a mistake on it, will I be arrested?’ ”
This is a point that has been brought up repeatedly but it misses a critical element – Freddie Gray was not potentially illegally arrested, he died in custody. So the message that police officers may want to assess is that, if their charge dies while in their custody and it is found that they violated laws, they will face prosecution.
As Slate puts it, “If Baltimore police believe ‘doing their jobs properly’ requires rough rides and other abusive behavior, then they should be in jail.”
As Slate argues, “It’s not that criminals have taken advantage of protests, it’s that police—in their virtual strike against the city—have exacerbated a real and serious crime problem, in service of a false choice between two kinds of lawlessness: One where violent, aggressive cops reign, and the other, where criminals do.”
Like us, Slate argues that there is a third option. This is not an option that either advocates aggressive and abusive policing practices or no policing, but rather, “better, more humane policing.” Contrary to the arguments of some on the right, there is evidence that community-based policing approaches, which gets citizens to buy in and partner with the police, are actually more effective in the long run and reduce tensions – which help the police better do their job.
As Slate put it, reformers want police on the street, doing their jobs, “but didn’t think that should come at the cost of their rights, or their lives.”
The idea behind community policing programs is that you can keep communities safe while holding bad police accountable for their conduct.
Slate writes, “In cities as different and diverse as Camden, New Jersey and Seattle, police have worked with communities to improve relationships, discipline bad actors, and—most importantly—reduce crime. There’s no contradiction. A city where officers and citizens can work together is one where there’s goodwill. Incidents still happen, but they’re mediated by pre-existing relationships and open lines of communication.”
Slate continues, “When Maryland state’s attorney for Baltimore Marilyn Mosby charged the responsible officers with Freddie Gray’s death—when she held them responsible—she helped create an opportunity for new, more constructive relationships between the city, the police, and the community.”
However, “With the slowdown, police are squandering that opportunity. By treating the city and its residents as a force to be beaten, these officers are sowing anger and animosity among potential allies. The Baltimore riots—the despair, the violence, and the destruction—were tragic, but if the city can’t learn from them—if it’s stuck in this ill will and resentment—they’ll become an actual tragedy.”
That is the key – accountability. That means holding citizens accountable when they break the law, but also holding the police accountable when they break the law.
—David M. Greenwald reporting