By Jim Foster
Long Beach, California Police Dept.
Police officers have never been under more scrutiny. The public’s perception of our profession has clearly changed in the blink of an eye. Why is this happening? I believe there are several factors that are working simultaneously against the police, and this “perfect storm” has built a caustic atmosphere around law enforcement and our ability to fight crime.
The seeds of this crisis were sown in late 2008 when the worldwide financial crisis struck. A small group of very wealthy people played Russian roulette with the economy and failed. After the disaster, those same people looked to shift the blame, and they turned their claws on us.
Because we have two things others wanted. In many states we have union representation and we have a secure retirement. All of a sudden, we are the “haves” and everyone else was a “have-not.” In this effort to divide and conquer we were no longer the heroes who protected our neighborhoods. We were now the selfish and greedy public employees who caused our economic problems.
In California, AB109 (Realignment) went into effect on October 1, 2011. Its goal was to reduce our prison population by 30,000 inmates before June 27, 2013. It also established Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) which meant that released convicted felons would not be supervised and would not be sent back to prison for violating the terms of their release. The public was told that the released felons would be carefully screened, but that was untrue and by August 2013, the governor himself was refusing to release 9,600 inmates because he had also come to the conclusion that their release would threaten the public’s safety.
At the same time, realignment was releasing felons, California was shrinking its number of cops. According to the DOJ Criminal Justice Profiles 2003-2012 report, the number of sworn California law enforcement officers dropped 7.2% in four years (from 82500 in 2008 to 77000 in 2013). Nearly half of those officers work on the front lines for municipal agencies. Numerous studies, including those from the RAND Corporation, the Public Policy Institute of California, and the Center for American Progress all agreed that there was a direct correlation between the decrease in sworn officers and the increase in crime. More criminals and fewer cops… you do the math.
In my view, other factors that have whipped up the hostility towards those of us in law enforcement include the decriminalization of crime (felonies turned into misdemeanors, etc.):
Crime was decriminalized: Prop 47 was enacted on November 4, 2014. It turned felonies into misdemeanors and allowed current felons to have their convictions reduced or overturned. It crushed law enforcements ability to collect DNA evidence, and prior offenses could not longer be used to enhance penalties. A criminal can commit nearly an unending stream of crime without ever having to worry about the consequences. When the public begins to realize the foolishness of this law, they will inevitability blame the police for failing to control crime. Unfortunately, their enactment of Prop 47 essentially decriminalized crime and allowed our habitual suspects a virtual unending public laboratory to hone their skills.
Non-action was promoted: The newest trend in law enforcement is to do nothing. In an effort to avoid “provoking an escalation of force”, some law enforcement leaders had taken a “hands off” approach. If a criminal wants to commit “small crimes,” then the police should let it happen in order to avoid a possible physical confrontation if the offender chooses to resist. Remember, it’s not their fault. They resisted you because they were afraid, young, had a bad home life, etc. The old adage “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” is false. Just recently in Denver, a group of demonstrators vandalized the police memorial that lists the names of fallen police officers. The police were there, but the Denver chief ordered his officers not to take action in order to avoid confrontation. The suspects defaced the wall while the officers just stood there. Vandalism is not protesting, it’s a crime. The world is full of cowards who chose to do nothing, and the US Department of Justice is leading the charge to promote avoiding confrontation at all cost…even if the cost is justice.
Police tools were removed: One of the themes that came out of Ferguson was that the police looked too much like the military. The federal government wants to reduce the ability of police agencies to get gear because they don’t want you to “look bad.” Remember, your life and your safety are a secondary concern. Ironically, the same week the Attorney General announced he was cutting gear to the police, an active shooter with a military grade assault rifle fired on LAPD’s SWAT during a running gun battle. The officers lived because they were behind their armored vehicle (the same tool the was scrutinized in Ferguson). Every tool you possess is under scrutiny because it is designed to forcibly gain submission from a person who does not want to cooperate peacefully. Everyone if looking for the magic tool that does not kill or injure and is 100% effective. That tool does exist. It’s called compliance. Parents should give this tool to their children beginning at birth. Unfortunately, we have to deal with the ones who never learned that lesson.
Accountability was questioned: So, what should happen to someone who breaks the law, is convicted, receives a fine, but then fails to pay the fine? “Debtor’s Prison” has become a revived trendy term to describe someone who is incarcerated when they fail to pay the fine. Critics’ state that no one should be jailed for simply failing to pay a fine, and that large fines are discriminatory. They point out that parts of fines should only be incurred by the taxpayer, such as 43 states bill defendants for a public defender; 41 states bill inmates for room and board during jail stays; 44 states bill prisoners for their own probation and parole supervision; and 49 states bill convicts for the electronic monitoring devices they are ordered to wear. Remember the old adage “do the crime, do the time?” No, no, no. You (law enforcement) are the problem because you are causing people to be incarcerated for minor offenses simply because they are poor.
Trial by media was encouraged: No other single factor is playing a bigger role in the attack on the police than media deception. They have led the public into believing a very dangerous pop culture depiction of police work, which includes a false belief that police can only shoot at suspects who are actively shooting a gun. They pander to the Monday morning quarterbacks and use language specifically designed to imply you are the problem. They are salivating at the chance to get body camera footage because it will allow them to second-guess your split-second life-or-death decisions for all eternity. The truth is sacrificed in the pursuit of their financial gain that is masked under the facade of encouraging public debate. They will encourage a controversy or a riot simply to help themselves. You are an expendable resource needed to promote their product. The public wants to instantaneously judge you, and trial by media is becoming the expected norm.
It never ceases to amaze me that despite all of these obstacles, our officers continue to go to work and honorably perform their duties. Never let these obstacles stand your way. You are the heroes who stand between order and chaos. You get dozens of chances every day to prove the critics wrong. You are a role model to children and the only hope to people victimized by evil. Thank you for all that you do.
Jim Foster is a police officer with the Long Beach, CA Police Dept. and a vice president of the Long Beach POA.