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“Relying On Anecdotes From Police Officials”: No Data Exists To Support Police Claims Of Victimization

Shortly after FBI Director James Comey delivered ill-considered remarks linking increased scrutiny of police to rising crime, a cellphone video of a Columbia, South Carolina, school cop violently manhandling a teenage girl went viral. Comey’s comments were quickly overtaken by that news — which, coincidently, showed how imprudent they were.

On two occasions in late October, the FBI’s top official had the opportunity to reinforce for police officials the sacred trust at the center of their oaths, which require them to protect and serve. That sacred trust was violated — cleaved and quartered, in fact — by Ben Fields, the Spring Valley High “school resource officer” whose actions resulted in his firing and sparked a Justice Department investigation.

Instead, Comey chose to play to police officers’ paranoia and sense of isolation and victimization. In speeches at the University of Chicago Law School and to the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he suggested that homicides are on the rise in several cities because police officers are too intimidated to do their jobs properly.

Speaking to the police chiefs, Comey asked: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?”

At the law school, he’d said that “viral videos” may be contributing to a police reluctance to confront criminals.

Let’s be clear: There is absolutely no data — as Comey admitted — that links rising homicides to a new passivity on the part of police. (Violent crime continues to decline, as it has since its peak in 1991, but homicides are now rising in a handful of cities. Criminologists don’t know why, as they still don’t know why crime has declined over the last few decades.)

In fact, there is no data showing that police are less aggressive than they used to be. The FBI director, who ought to know better, is relying on anecdotes from police officials, who are in the habit of complaining when they are under scrutiny.

But that scrutiny is long overdue. The Black Lives Matter movement, a loosely organized network of activists, was sparked by police violence that has resulted in the deaths of unarmed black civilians. You know the names of many of the victims, who include Eric Garner, put in a deadly chokehold by New York City police for the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes; 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead by police in Cleveland for waving a toy gun in a park; and John Crawford III, shot dead by Beavercreek, Ohio, police after he picked up a BB gun from a Wal-Mart store shelf.

If protests over such official savagery keep police from doing their jobs, they are not committed to keeping the peace, to serving or protecting. If they were, they’d welcome attention that helps to weed out the bullies, the poorly trained and the bigots in their ranks. After all, police officers need the respect and cooperation of the communities they serve in order to catch the real criminals.

Unfortunately, though, many rank-and-file officers and their superiors have assumed the mantle of victims, complaining that the Black Lives Matter movement disrespects, and even endangers, police. It keeps them from doing their jobs. It emboldens criminals, they say.

And that narrative is constantly fed by conservative media outlets, whose pundits insist that President Obama panders to criminals while blaming police for simple errors. That notion was further fueled at the most recent Republican debate by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who insisted that the president doesn’t “support police officers.”

“You know, the FBI director … has said this week that because of a lack of support from politicians like the president of the United States, that police officers are afraid to get out of their cars, that they’re afraid to enforce the law,” Christie claimed.

If you want to see fear, take another look at that disturbing video of Ben Fields flinging a teenage girl across the floor. The other students cower in their desks, some afraid to look up. That lesson is one from which they’ll likely never recover.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, October 31, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | James Comey, Police Brutality, Police Officers | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Battle Cry Among Some In The Academy”: My Police Academy Teaches The ‘War On Cops’ Myth

The trumpets of the thin blue line and right-wing news sources have been sounding, piping out warnings of a “War on Police.” You may have heard it on talk radio, seen it on Fox News or even read it in the New York Post, but now the rhetoric of charlatans has reached me in class at my police academy in a Northern red state.

The War on Cops is a grossly inaccurate response to recent police killings which are on track for another year that will rival the safest on record. Gunfire deaths by police officers are down 27 percent this year, according to the Officer Down memorial page, and police killings in general are at a 20-year low, given current numbers for 2015. Police deaths in Barack Obama’s presidency are lower than the past four administrations, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Not a single iota of evidence supports a War on Police, but it has become a battle cry among some in the academy.

Over 80 percent of police departments in the United States are facing issues with low recruitment numbers. As an Iraq War veteran I sought to solidify my chance of employment working in law enforcement by attending a local police academy. I enjoyed serving my country as military police and will do such now as a sworn police officer back home.

What are they telling us in a post-Michael Brown academy? The culture of police brutality is infrequently addressed, but what is continually mentioned is the notion that there is a War on Police. By whom? Depends on whom you ask.

Some instructors blame the Obama administration, which has provided extra funding to police departments to hire Iraq War veterans such as myself. Others, citing news organizations and politicians, try to pin it on the Black Lives Matter movement.

How are they attempting to substantiate this? By highlighting a few high-profile police killings in the past few months, especially the tragic, execution-style death of a Texas sheriff at a gas station. Many activists tried to tie the accused murderer, Shannon Miles, to the Black Lives Matter movement in the immediate aftermath as a motive. He had no ties to the movement.

Miles, however, had been previously declared mentally incompetent.

“The Obama administration and Eric Holder are undermining the police. We have officers dying left and right and he’s dicking off in Alaska,” says one of my instructors, referring to the president’s trip to Alaska last week.

Our instructor is likely trying to warn us to take heed of the dangers of the job, and not expect to be thanked by politicians for doing it. But he has made the government and the people we’re meant to serve out to be boogeymen in the process.

Bad guys have been shooting cops for years, but this is neither a new nor growing phenomenon. A whole generation has grown up knowing the phrase “fuck the police” as a song lyric, a response to the mass incarceration culture spawned from a War on Drugs that numbers show disproportionately and unfairly targets black Americans.

I understand as a law enforcement professional—and as someone capable of fairly reading mountains of data—that the Drug War has been unfairly used as a tool of oppression against the black community. It is why the American public overall has shown they have less confidence in police in recent times.

But there is no War on Police. This Us vs. Them mentality still prevails even in fresh academy cadets. Perhaps some of these people will become future jackbooted, truncheon-wielding oppressors. Or perhaps they will encounter the reality that betrays the fear they are taught.

 

By: Clayton Jenkins, writing under a pseudonym, is an Iraq War veteran training to become a Police Officer; The Daily Beast, September 14, 2015

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Deaths, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up”: GOP Candidates Blame Obama For Police Shootings, Cite No Evidence

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch yesterday “strongly condemned shootings of law enforcement officers in Texas and Illinois and issued an unequivocal message of support for police.” The comments came on the heels of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) arguing that “the entire Obama administration” has shown “hostility [towards] law enforcement.”

Cruz, of course, backed up his argument by pointing to … nothing. Soon after, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) appeared on Fox News and said the White House’s support for law enforcement has been “ambiguous,” which contributes to violence and lawlessness. To support the contention, the scandal-plagued Republican also pointed to … nothing.

Taking an even less subtle approach, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) published a piece on a far-right blog yesterday, reflecting on “a serious problem.”

In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.

Look, eventually we’re going to reach a put-up-or-shut-up moment. We talked yesterday about how offensive it is when politicians exploit the deaths of police officers for partisan gain, but as the number of GOP candidates connecting the White House to the slayings grows, it becomes all the more important for Republican officials to do one specific thing:

Back up their ugly claims with some shred of proof.

Of course, at this point, I can imagine some conservative readers yelling at their computer screens. “Oh yeah, smart guy? What about you? Where’s your evidence that the president has offered unambiguous support for law enforcement?”

It’s not an unreasonable point, but it’s also surprisingly easy to spend a little time online and find all kinds of examples. About a month ago, Obama told the NAACP’s annual convention, “Our communities are safer thanks to brave police officers and hard-working prosecutors who put those violent criminals in jail.” In May, he said, “To be a police officer takes a special kind of courage…. It takes a special kind of courage to run towards danger, to be a person that residents turn to when they’re most desperate.”

Here was the president in May at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service:

“Your jobs are inherently dangerous. The reminders are too common. Just a few days ago, two police officers were killed in the line of duty in Mississippi. A week before that, an officer was killed in the line of duty in Queens. A few months before that, two of his fellow officers in the NYPD were killed as well.  We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty that you’ve chosen. We can offer you the support you need to be safer. We can make the communities you care about and protect safer as well. We can make sure that you have the resources you need to do your job. We can do everything we have to do to combat the poverty that plagues too many communities in which you have to serve.  We can work harder, as a nation, to heal the rifts that still exist in some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect. 

 “We owe it to all of you who wear the badge with honor. And we owe it to your fellow officers who gave their last full measure of devotion.  Most of all, we can say thank you. We can say we appreciate you and we’re grateful for the work that you do each and every day. And we can thank the families who bear the burden alongside you.”

In March, reflecting on the crisis in Ferguson, Obama said, “The overwhelming number of law enforcement officers have a really hard, dangerous job, and they do it well and they do it fairly, and they do it heroically. And I strongly believe that. And the overwhelming majority of police departments across the country are really thinking hard about how do we make sure that we are protecting and serving everybody equally. And we need to honor those folks, and we need to respect them, and not just assume that they’ve got ill will or they’re doing a bad job.”

Even in this year’s State of the Union address, the president added, “We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  And surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

The list goes on and on. There are so many examples like these – the ones noted above are just from 2015 – spanning Obama’s entire presidency. Over and over again, he’s voiced support and gratitude towards Americans in law enforcement.

Ted Cruz said this week that the police feel under “assault from the president,” which the far-right senator considers “fundamentally wrong.”

It is fundamentally wrong, but not for the reasons Cruz thinks.

The underlying allegation is no mild rebuke. Republican officials, some seeking the nation’s highest office, are publicly accusing the president of the United States, not only of hostility towards law enforcement, but also of contributing to a dynamic in which officers are being killed. That’s a serious accusation, which requires substantiation.

If GOP officials can’t back it up, they ought to move on to some other kind of nonsense.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Tragedy And Blame”: Expecting Elected Officials To Violate Their Oaths To Show Unconditional Support For “The Team”

I managed to screen out virtually all news during a weekend of bicoastal travel, shopping, and relative visitation. So now encountering the maelstrom over the murder of two New York City police officers by a crazy person is sad and confusing. But at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has the right reaction, particularly in terms of the bizarre blame game being played in New York right now:

Early reports suggest that both police officers were well-liked in their communities, though their killings would be tragic and worthy of condemnation in any case. And they are, in fact, being condemned by nearly everyone commenting on the case, which is no surprise: opposition to the murder of police officers is as close to a consensus belief as exists in American politics, culture and life.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association, a group that claims to represent “approximately 12,000 active and retired sergeants of the NYPD,” would have us think otherwise. “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio,” the group declared in a statement that attempted to exploit these murders to advance their political agenda. In a similarly dishonorable statement, “the president of the city’s largest police union, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mr. de Blasio for the tragedy. The officers’ blood ‘starts on the steps of City Hall,’ he said, ‘in the office of the mayor.’”

And Howard Safir, a former NYPD commissioner, wrote this in Time: “When Ismaaiyl Abdulah Brinsley brutally executed Officers Ramos and Liu he did so in an atmosphere of permissiveness and anti-police rhetoric unlike any that I have seen in 45 years in law enforcement. The rhetoric this time is not from the usual suspects, but from the Mayor of New York City, the Attorney General of the United States, and even the President. It emboldens criminals and sends a message that every encounter a black person has with a police officer is one to be feared.”

Notably, none of these intellectually dishonest statements quote or link to any actual rhetoric spoken by Mayor de Blasio, Eric Holder, or President Obama. That is because none of them has uttered so much as a single word that even hints that violently attacking a police officer, let alone murdering one, would be justified. Suggesting that their words are responsible for this murder is discrediting. Even the weaker claim that their words “embolden criminals” is absurd, both as a matter of logic and as a statement made amid historically low crime rates.

With regard to the particular crime of killing police officers, “the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty-that is, killed with felonious intent by a suspected criminal-plummeted to 27 in 2013, its lowest level in decades.” That is the Obama/Holder record on this issue. We needn’t speculate about whether their rhetoric has proved dangerous for police. We know for a fact that it has not.

Perhaps police officers everywhere (including the New York union officials who have been engaged in tense contract negotiations with representatives of Mayor de Blasio) feel the need to express solidarity with Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo and treat them as identical to Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. That’s disturbing, but at least understandable. But expecting elected officials to do so–to violate their oaths in order to show unconditional support for The Team without regard to the circumstances–is inherently objectionable. As for the pols who are exploiting this situation for partisan purposes and seeking to encourage the police to view themselves as besieged and persecuted and owing no allegiance to civilian authorities? They are disgusting and lawless people promoting true anarchy.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 22, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Officers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Documenting Police Killings”: Wide Discrepancies In Rate Of Police Killings Among Major Metropolitan Police Departments

One of the sources of confusion arising during recent controversies over police killings in Missouri and in New York has been the lack of good and consistent data on similar incidents. Congress just passed legislation to revive a lapsed 2000-2006 data collection law, but as veteran journalist Blake Fleetwood notes in a web-exclusive piece for Ten Miles Square today, the earlier law wasn’t enforced. As a result we know less than we should about police killings and such closely related issues as the risk to police of being themselves killed by lethal force in the line of duty. But by piecing together available data, Fleetwood does reach some tentative conclusions well worth testing with fresh data.

A Washington Monthly analysis of police homicides found wide discrepancies in the rate of police killings among major metropolitan police departments, when measured against population figures.

Contrary to popular belief, New York City—-with a police homicide rate of 1 in 123,529 citizens—-ranks near the top (best, least people killed) of large cities in the U.S. The NYPD killed 68 people from 2007 – 2012 out of a population of 8.4 million.

In Miami-Dade County, in a population of 2.5 million, (less than a third of the people living in NYC) police killed 68 citizens during that same five-year period. This means that citizens of Miami are 3.5 times more likely to killed by their local policeman than their counterparts in New York City.

An amalgamated review of police shooting data from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and figures from 105 major police departments (obtained by the Wall Street Journal) —- when overlaid with population figures —- revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department killed 111 citizens during this period in a population of 3.8 million, which works out to one police homicide per 21,229 persons. This indicates that the average citizen’s chance of being killed by a policeman is nearly six times greater in Los Angeles than in New York City.

Fleetwood esttimates that the total number of police killings from 2007-2012 probably exceeded three thousand. Probably half or more of those killed did not have firearms. Moreover, while no one wants to expose police officers to undue risk, some facts remain that contradict the impression that it’s open season on the police:

In five years, 2008 to 2012, only one policeman was killed by a firearm in the line of duty in New York City. Police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal. Eight NYC policemen took their own lives in 2012, alone.

Comparatively, a fisherman is 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A logging worker is eight times more likely than a police officer to die on the job, and a garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.

Most policemen killed on the job die in auto accidents, according to FBI statistics.

What can be done to reduce the number of police killings without making the lives of officers more dangerous? Fleetwood points to better training of a sort that used to be available not that long ago:

Twenty years ago Bill Clinton funded the Police Corps, whose mission was to train elite policemen with physical and mental conditioning very much like the training of the Seals and Green Berets. The recruits spent a year role-playing through every possible situation. The Police Corps produced 1,000 of the best trained and most professional policeman in the country.

But it was expensive, and, according to Joe Klein, it was killed by George W. Bush.

If the United States had better trained, more professional police, we certainly would not have so many police homicides, which are tearing apart the social fabric of our country.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Officers, Police Shootings | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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