Commentary: Crime and Police Misconduct Are Separate Issues


It seems like in every discussion we have on police misconduct and officer-involved shootings, someone tries to turn the issue back to crime.  They are not the same issues.

New stats came out on Monday which show about an 11 percent increase in murders from 2014.  A huge amount of those increased murders are being driven by exactly one city – Chicago – according to analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Even law enforcement leaders are urging for calm and perspective.  For instance, Ronal Serpas, who heads up Law Enforcement Leaders to  Reduce Crime and Incarceration, a group that includes the current police chief of Los Angeles, as well as former chiefs of police for New York and Washington, D.C., said the following:

“Irresponsible claims that crime is out of control are not backed up by the facts, as new data analyses show. Overall crime remains the same as it was last year, though a small number of cities have seen a rise in murder rates. Increases in such cities are troubling and must be addressed immediately,” he said.  “Police officers continue to work hard every day to keep our country safe, and sensational headlines don’t help us in that mission. False narratives on rising crime create panic and division, instead of giving police and communities an opportunity to work with each other toward an even safer place to live.”

We also need perspective.  Crime rates have fallen steadily for the last 25 years, bottoming out for now in 2014.  Clearly, the crimes rates were not going to continue dropping forever – that does not mean that things are headed back to where they were from 1977 to 1994.

At the same time, there has been a question from more conservative circles, about why there isn’t more of a pushback against black on black crime.  Part of the answer is that black on black crime isn’t operating under the color of authority, and therefore represents a wholly different issue.

As we have noted this year, part of the problem is that, for the history of this country, the police themselves were used as the instrument by which white supremacy was enforced.

The recent pushback against police shootings actually can be traced back to a string of incidents following the election of President Obama, where African Americans became disillusioned with the notion that we can elect a black president – but African Americans still cannot enjoy equal protection under the law.

But I think the conservative critics have missed a more fundamental problem with their black on black violence theory.  Ferguson happened at a time when violence of all kinds was at a 50-year low, and so the focus of the black community had turned toward the systemic and disproportionate policing that they had endured in silence for years.

I would add one more caveat.  In 1991, it was an accident of history that an individual with a new video camera happened to catch the beating of Rodney King on video.  Nowadays, we have cell phone cameras, surveillance cameras, and now police dash cams and body-worn cameras.

The ability to live stream cell phone video on Facebook, upload to YouTube and other social media and reach a half million to a million people almost instantly has changed the playing field.  Whereas police actions have always operated in the dark, so to speak, now every interaction has the potential to be caught on film and shown to millions before it even reaches national TV.

For me the biggest difference between traditional crime and police misconduct is that we have a system for dealing with the former, but struggle to deal with the latter.  Look, I’m a critic of the criminal justice system in a lot of ways, but if you commit a crime, the police will investigate and arrest, you will be prosecuted by a professional DA, represented by an attorney, tried and convicted and sentenced to a set amount of time.

While we may quibble around the edges of the system, it is a system that we have utilized for a long time.

Dealing with problem officers remains a problem.  Not only do police operate under the color of authority, the system is poorly equipped to deal with officers who break the public trust.  Even in this heightened age of awareness we see problems with the system – who should investigate, when is it misconduct versus a crime, how transparent should the police be?

I thought a column a few days from Assemblymember Kevin McCarty was informative.  He was discussing the video released of the Sacramento police shooting of Joseph Mann.  The video, which the Vanguard reported on, shows that Mr. Mann was behaving erratically.

As the Assemblymember writes, “Mann was behaving erratically, had a knife and threatened officers verbally. Officers had been told he had a gun, though no gun was found. It’s unclear from the video whether he was holding a weapon in his final confrontation with police.”

He notes, “Police and District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office are investigating to determine if the shooting was justified.” But that is the problem. Asking law enforcement (and the DA’s office is an extension of law enforcement) to investigate itself is not going to generate trust in the outcome.

The Assemblymember gets it.  He writes, “It’s in the best interests of the public and officers to bring more independence and transparency to investigations of shootings by officers.” He continues, “A conflict of interest exists when police and district attorneys police themselves. District attorneys rely on testimony and evidence provided by police. They work together and many develop close relationships.”

In a 2015 report, The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, it was concluded that “independent investigators and prosecutors are needed in cases of police-involved fatal shootings.”

However, the Assemblymember points out, “So far, only three states require that outside agencies investigate officer-involved shootings. In Wisconsin, the first state to adopt such a requirement, police have embraced the reform, and it gives family and friends of the deceased more confidence in the process.”

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said the reform “strikes the balance between the fact that law enforcement officers have one of the hardest jobs in the world and the reality that their ability to do those jobs relies upon the public trust.”

Mr. McCarty notes that he authored legislation in 2015, AB 86, “that would have required special prosecutors appointed by California’s attorney general to investigate officer-involved shootings. The bill, which stalled, would have granted independent prosecutors the authority and resources to determine whether criminal charges should be filed against officers who are justified in their use of lethal force.

“Based on what we see across the country and in Sacramento, California must insist on independent outside investigations of officer-involved shootings.”

While I agree with Kevin McCarty, I would actually go a step further.  I think we need a uniform police investigation system across the country – one that sets a process by which cases can be independently investigated, sets transparency requirements to the public, and sets a uniform discipline system that spans from professional discipline to civil discipline and criminal discipline.

I really believe that the distrust, not only in the police but in the accountability for police crossing the line, is driving a lot of these problems and that, by addressing that in a holistic manner, we can restore trust in the system.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Davis Progressive

    i just think too many people don’t understand the difference between when an individual commits a crime and when the government does it.  the conservatives here are interesting because there are a lot of anti-government conservatives who understand the difference.  but that seems lost on the local crew

    1. quielo

      DP, Most people are concerned about their personal safety and the safety of our families. We see Joseph Mann as a much more likely threat than the cops. That is the point you fail to grasp.

      As far as that kid who was doing armed robberies with the fake guy? I’m glad they shot him.

      1. Tia Will


        As far as that kid who was doing armed robberies with the fake guy? I’m glad they shot him.”

        While DP may appreciate your views, I most certainly do not appreciate this one. I do not see how anyone could expresses satisfaction over the loss of life of a 13 year old who was himself not engaged in any life threatening activity. Arrest, yes. Place in detention, absolutely. Rehabilitate, hopefully. But kill, absolutely not. And it is beyond my comprehension how anyone could possibly feel this way.

  2. Biddlin

    “I really believe that the distrust, not only in the police but in the accountability for police crossing the line, is driving a lot of these problems and that, by addressing that in a holistic manner, we can restore trust in the system.”

    Heads need to roll. The depth of fear and distrust has gone beyond the reach of a quick fix.

      1. David Greenwald

        I’ll give you an example, I was meeting with an attorney who does civil rights litigation. Case somewhere in the Sacramento area where the family called the police because they were afraid their kid, who has mental illness is going to hurt himself. He has a knife and locked himself in his room when the police arrived. They bust down the door, he raises the knife, they shoot and kill him. He’s like 23. So you call the police because you’re afraid he’s going to hurt himself and he ends up dead. That would make me think twice about calling the police?

        1. Delia .

          Extremely similar situation in a suburb of Ptld OR. Difference? Cops quietly convinced the teenager, with his Mother, into black and white and respectfully admitted him into psyche ward at appropriate hospital. Pride, integrity, guts.

        2. Frankly

          But calls for police service are up and high.  So although I get your point for this single incident, it does not seem to have any impact on the number of people calling for police help.

          You seem to gravitate towards admonishing others using observation as not being data focused, and then ignoring the data and using observation.  It is one reason that I claim you are too biased to be spending so much time on this topic.

          Actually, the problem you bring up here is actually in your ideological court.  It goes back to the political pressure to stop committing crazy people to asylums without their agreement, and then the run up of entitlements and non-defense spending that caused the lack of funding for asylums.   Basically because these parents don’t have any other “official” to call to deal with their son with severe mental health problems the cops are stuck dealing with it.  And cops are not trained, nor are they supposed to be trained, to deal with severe mental health issues.

          The problem is that you will never be able to attract the talent that would be equipped to handle both… dealing with a violent street gang and also someone’s son having a mental health problem.   And your attacking of cops in general is poisonous to the recruiting process.  Try to find any smart and capable young person that wants to be a cops these days.

          This example is just part of the overall indication with what I have pointed out repeatedly.  That the decay of other social services from budget priorities (millionaire government employees for one) and the decay of economic opportunity in many areas are causing the cops to have to deal with more crap that is not supposed to be crap that cops should be required to deal with.   And liberals are just scapegoating cops for these problems because otherwise they know the egg is on their liberal face.

        3. David Greenwald

          “Up and high” isn’t exactly data driven.  The question is whether people are calling the police and cooperating with the police on investigations.  From why I read in the Chciago report, for example, that’s been a big problem.

        4. Frankly

          WASHINGTON – An estimated 62.9 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 26 percent of the population, had one or more contacts with police in 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.

          WASHINGTON, D.C.—An estimated 43.8 million people 16 years old or older, or about 21 percent of the population of that age, had contact with the police during 1999, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.

          And the number of contacts had fallen between 2002 and 2008. Seems clear that the crash of the economy in 2008 and then Obamanomics has had a direct impact in the job for cops.

          And they have done a terrific job keeping crime down.

        5. Eric Gelber

          And cops are not trained, nor are they supposed to be trained, to deal with severe mental health issues.

          False. Police most certainly are supposed to deal with severe mental health issues and do receive basic and continuing training for that purpose. Mental Health Training in Law Enforcement.

          Basically because these parents don’t have any other “official” to call to deal with their son with severe mental health problems the cops are stuck dealing with it.

          That’s largely true, but the problem is not with “political pressure to stop committing crazy people to asylums without their agreement.” The problem is with inadequate funding and support for community mental health services.

        6. quielo

          “the problem is not with “political pressure to stop committing crazy people to asylums without their agreement.” The problem is with inadequate funding and support for community mental health services.”


          This is not true in my experience. Having been involved with NAMI in other counties I can tell you that even motivated relatives with funds run into significant problems in providing for mentally ill relatives who are treatment resistant.

        7. Frankly

          False. Police most certainly are supposed to deal with severe mental health issues and do receive basic and continuing training for that purpose.

          Not false.  Training is inadequate and only about 10% of all police get any substantive training.  You have an interesting hair-trigger on this topic.  Seems that it irritates you since it might threaten your “cops are just bad people and racist” narrative?

          but the problem is not with “political pressure to stop committing crazy people to asylums without their agreement.” The problem is with inadequate funding and support for community mental health services.

          Certainly funding is an issue now (where is all the money being spent noting our significant federal, state and local deficits?).   But it was the left leaning civil rights activist people that pretty much killed the standard for Civil Commitment of people suspected of being mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others.   States began to change civil commitment laws to put legal protections in place to protect the right to liberty of the person being considered for commitment. These legal protections included the potential inpatient’s right to a trial, with attorney representation, prior to psychiatric admission. Basically stricter commitment standards were imposed to the point where fewer and fewer people were committed.

          Also, with the powerful illegal drugs being used in these depressed areas it gets very difficult for police to make a distinction between someone high or someone mentally ill.   Maybe that should not make a difference in your mind, but it can certainly impact what works and what does not work in dealing with a person seemingly out of control.

        8. Eric Gelber

          Training is inadequate and only about 10% of all police get any substantive training. 

          It’s hard to have a meaningful dialogue with you when you just make up your own facts. And I don’t know how you can interpret what I said as in any way suggesting “cops are just bad people and racist.”

  3. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > Crime and Police Misconduct Are Separate Issues

    True, but most police shootings have the police shooting career criminals in high crime areas.

    > Ferguson happened at a time when violence of all kinds

    > was at a 50-year low

    True, violence OVERALL was recently at a 50-year low, but violence is not at a “50-year” low in the high crime areas in America where a high percentage of career criminals (of all races) live and a high percentage of police shootings occur.


      1. South of Davis

        DP wrote:

        > both your comments are questionable factually

        If I am wrong how about posting a link that shows “facts” that I am wrong?

        If I am wrong that means that “most” (aka “over half”) police shootings involve people that have not had not committed crimes and occur in low crime areas.

        Do you know anyone that lives in a rural Wyoming trailer park, Lake County CA trailer park (both high crime almost almost all white areas) or the Englewood area of Chicago or West Oakland (both high crime almost all black areas) that will tell you things are “safer” with less crime than 1966 (50 years ago)?

        1. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > you didn’t post any links,  and you’re the one who

          > made the claim in the first place    why should i?

          Sorry to hear that after 45 minutes on Google DP could not find even a single link to prove me wrong.

        2. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > And neither did you.

          Do you (or anyone you know other than DP) think that MOST (over half) of all police shootings are cops shooting people who have never had run ins with the law in low crime areas ?

          > I thought the burden of proof was always on the maker?

          Do you really think this?  If I wake up early and post that I “question the facts” in all your Thursday posts will you take the time to post links to back up each “fact”?  DP claims to be an atty. so should know “semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit” or “the necessity of proof always lies with the person who lays charges”…

          P.S. Remember I didn’t say ALL shooting victims had criminal records, but every one I can find was in a high crime area (I am not aware of the Davis cops ever shooting a kid with a toy gun). Posting multiple links get things caught up in the filter but is there a single person in the US who follows the news that does not know that Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Keith Scott all had criminal records and were shot in high crime areas (feel free to Google for a LOT more on each shooting if the names don’t ring a bell”…


          1. David Greenwald

            Answer to your first question: I have not seen data either way. The most complete database is the Washington Post’s, I’m not sure whether that issue is recorded in them.

            Answer to your second question: You made two assertions, he responded with an assertion of his own. You then demanded he provide evidence that your assertion was wrong. I questioned you the other day on playing games, I see that at play here.

          2. David Greenwald

            I just looked and the Post database does not have criminal records in it, so I don’t think we know whether your assertion is true.

        3. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          >  I have not seen data either way.

          You claim to understand statistics and have correctly said that if a politician receives a majority of letters and e-mails with one point of view from his constituents that there is a good chance that the majority of his constituents have that view.  I have been reading about high profile police shootings for decades and can’t think of a single one where the cops shot an adult (who had time to get a record) that did not have a record (keeping in mind that I would expect a police shooting of an unarmed third grade teacher who never got a parking ticket to get MORE than average coverage).

          > questioned you the other day on playing games,

          It seems like you and DP are the ones playing games.

          If you really believe that most people shot are not criminals and that most shootings are in nice neighborhoods tell me why and name some of the people who have never been arrested and nice place places where they were shot (I named three career criminals that were shot in bad areas).


          1. David Greenwald

            First, you’re shifting your terms – first it was career criminals, now it is criminals. Second, I’ve only argued thus far that we don’t have the data. Third, you’re ignoring a large population, mentally ill, many of whom don’t have criminal records.

        4. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Third, you’re ignoring a large population, mentally ill,

          > many of whom don’t have criminal records.

          Sure “many” don’t have criminal records, but “many” do have a long list of criminal arrests (e.g. most of the the large percentage of homeless who have mental illness).

          I have a cousin with mental illness who is a High School teacher when taking lithium, but every few years when she decided she “doesn’t need it anymore” she will get arrested (actual arrests in the last 5 years were for breaking in the neighbors home and walking on 101 in at night in her pajamas).

  4. Frankly

    Ignorance and ideological bias on the display here.

    The reason that overall crime rates have fallen since its peak in 1990 is _______________?

    (hint: Since 1990 the US has increased policing and increase tough on crime laws… that which the political left is now demanding we reduce to help prevent so many hurt feelings.  We can thank Bill Clinton for much of that.)

    True or False?  Per the FBI, violent crime increased in 2015?

    True or False?  The ratio of cop shootings of suspects to the number of police-public encounters is at an all time low.

    True or False?  The numbers of requests for service from law enforcement are significant higher in black neighborhoods (12% of total with 13.2% of the population) than in white neighborhoods (14% of total with 63% of the population).

    True or False?  The DOJ reports that in violent crimes blacks are the attackers 84.9% of all incidents.

    True or False?  The DOJ reports that in violent crimes, a black is 27 times more likely to attack a white and 8 times more likely to attack a Hispanic than the other way around. A Hispanic is eight times more likely to attack a white than vice versa.

      1. Frankly

        Well if you don’t know the cause of something it makes sense to be careful making changes to prevent it from getting worse.

        I think though that we do know the cause, it is just an inconvenient truth for the liberal social justice activist.

      2. South of Davis

        Don wrote:

        > Here are ten possible theories. 

        They are not “ten possible theories” they are “ten of the many reasons” that crime has dropped.

        I am against “stop and frisk” (and ANY other police searches of ANYONE not under arrest), but it was “one” of the MANY reasons that “official” crime dropped in NYC.

        I say “official” because I believe that it is a “crime” for the government to stop and frisk (or pull over and look in the trunk) of anyone unless they have probable cause to arrest them…

        1. Frankly

          I think Stop and Frisk was poorly implemented in the places it was practiced.   But if done right it makes complete rational, logical and common sense to enhance the authority of the police to question people they suspect as carrying a firearm in areas where there is a high level of gun violence and crime.   It makes complete rational, logical and common sense that this would result in some arrests and convictions that prevented the perpetrator from using the gun in violence and crime.  That would be the benefit.  The cost would be causing some hurt feelings of unfairness and the perceived short-term loss of freedom for the people in these neighborhoods from what feels like unreasonable search.

          I see this as not much different that alcohol check points that stop drivers.   You can certainly try to differentiate this by saying that the cops in this case force all drivers to pull over, but then this is only for the cops to check to see if they believe there is reasonable suspicion that the driver had been drinking.  In other words it is to allow the cops to use their own judgment and training to decide when someone should be questioned further about their drinking.  This is EXACTLY the same as Stop and Frisk except that the “drinking” (gun use, crime and violence) in this case is WAY over-represented in black neighborhoods.

        2. Frankly

          So you are ok with a Terry Stop and and not Stop and Frisk?

          Do I understand that the only real difference is the “probably cause” test?   What about a bulge in the clothing is that enough probable cause?

          Assuming you support a Terry Stop, seems you are splitting hairs over Stop and Frisk.

          And what is your position on alcohol checkpoints where there is no probable cause?  I think I remember you saying that you supported them because they could save lives.


          1. David Greenwald

            Alcohol checkpoints also have very stringent requirements. And you have the implied consent issue that you ignored yesterday. When you get a driver’s license you give implied consent to submit to a field sobriety test.

            The reason why I’m more okay with Terry Stops is that they are based on articulable suspicion, whereas Stop and Frisks are essentially random which is why NY was ending up with 89% of the people with nothing.

        3. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Stop and Frisks are essentially random which is why NY

          > was ending up with 89% of the people with nothing.

          If Stop and Frisk is a waste of time (and makes urban blacks hate the government even more) when “89% of the people had nothing” do you agree (like I do) that the FBI gun background checks (where 99.4% of the time they get nothing) is also a waste of time (that makes gun owners of all races hate the government even more)?

          P.S. I found a CNN link so DP can’t say I got the numbers from a “right wing” source

        4. Frankly

          When you get a driver’s license you give implied consent to submit to a field sobriety test

          As I pointed out before with the airline travel example, your “implied consent” differentiation is very, very, very weak.   It barely holds any water in consideration of your points in opposition to Stop and Frisk.  You seem to be scrambling to move the goal posts here and to restructure your opposition with each challenge to it.   You say that anyone has choice in that they can just turn around and leave (not fly) if they refuse to submit.  That then assumes that flying isn’t a necessity for them… or else you are okay discriminating against people that have a necessity to fly.    Again, it is a very weak differentiation between it and Stop and Frisk.  In fact they are both justified for the same reason, to prevent weapons from being carried into a high-risk area where others can be killed by it.  And the alcohol check point is the same in that by looking at a car driven by a drunk person as a weapon.   (And no Don, not all state require DUI checkpoints to be pre-announced).

          I do appreciate that you would support the Terry Stop, but again, what is your measure of probable cause?  Because frankly I cannot see much daylight between the two with a more lenient probable cause.  For example, someone wearing clothing and moving in a way that appears they are concealing a gun.

          The biggest problem I have is that we are hamstringing law enforcement to work off their significant training and instinct to help keep everyone safe over the criticism that they might unfairly target some people of a certain victim class.  Policing is a difficult job already.  Much more difficult than is the job owned by most of those that criticize them.

        5. Frankly

          Thanks Don.  That is what I understood to be the case too.  From your article cite:

          Most African-Americans and Hispanics — the groups whom police figures show are most often stopped and frisked — support the practice in some form. Two-thirds of black voters think it should remain, but nearly as many, 60 percent, want it modified. Only 7 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Latino voters would leave it unchanged.

          This just seems to me to be one of many examples where some people that claim to advocate for the black community seem to consistently advocate for things that are bad for the black community.

  5. South of Davis

    Frankly wrote:

    > Do you have any point here

    At least Biddlin’s post was kind of funny and he didn’t just say “your comments are questionable factually” like DP does so often (when he knows what I am posting is true, but he “wishes” it were not true)…

        1. Frankly

          Still don’t get it.   Where are you from?  Seems maybe a cultural difference in our processing of what is funny and what isn’t funny.   Al Sharpton is just not a funny guy in my world.

  6. Frankly

    This just posted from the neighborhood blog…

    Heads up: West Sacramento police are dealing with a pursuit in Davis. They have a large drone going through neighborhoods in Mace Ranch. Lock your windows and doors.

    1. hpierce

      No, that was a helicopter, not a drone… get real… saw it (and heard it), many times throughout the evening… maybe there was a drone as well, but that is a tenuous ‘maybe’ … please get facts straight…

      And, yes, I live in the Mace Ranch area, and the helicopter was maybe 400 yds away, at closest approach…

  7. hpierce

    Yet another untruth…

    When you get a driver’s license you give implied consent to submit to a field sobriety test.

    No… big time… cite a section of the VC if you can… implied consent is blood, breath, urine testing… nothing about field sobriety test… and implied consent only applies for someone lawfully arrested, on probable cause…

    The quoted statement David, is devoid of “fact”, and unless you can cite a Code section to the contrary, I call BS.


    1. South of Davis

      I did not find the CVC section but I’m pretty sure the info below is correct (I used to have the hard copy of the CVC at home and read it for fun):

      “Under California state law, you must be lawfully arrested before being required to submit to a chemical BAC test. You also have the right to choose which type of test you want to take—breath or blood. Most DUI investigations involve the officer using a preliminary breath test. If you are not on probation and/or are over the age of 21, you are not required to submit to the preliminary breath test, and the officer is required to advise you of your right to refuse”

      1. PhillipColeman

        I have a copy of the Vehicle Code at home as well. I’ve read many sections many times over a span of 40 years. Several have been memorized.

        If you’re reading the Vehicle Code for the pleasure it provides– are we returning the discussion to that void in public health care?

  8. David Greenwald

    “Implied Consent Law. This law states that by driving a vehicle you have agreed to submit to chemical tests of your breath, blood, or urine to determine alcohol or drug content, if asked to do so by a law enforcement officer.”

    However, California law is different from most states. California: “California’s “implied consent” law says that if you are lawfully arrested by an officer who has probable cause to believe that you have been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then you consent to taking a chemical test of your blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining your blood alcohol …”

    I learned something new.

  9. Delia .

    Yippee, a bump in business revenues for taxi’s, lyfts, ubers, etc.
    & pretty much every mode of public transportation. So get to the Amtrak & book a trip to Sharon Springs, NY.

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