Taking Back the Neighborhood

 

When I hit the bricks as a new police officer, I wanted to help good people and arrest bad ones. Sometimes, helping people is giving them directions to a particular location; other times, it’s taking them to a particular destination, like booking, which certainly helped the people in a neighborhood that could behave themselves.

I spent some time working the parks in the city. I always took ownership of any area that I worked. If it was a neighborhood, then that was my neighborhood. If it was a park, then it was my park. Working the park meant talking to kids and their parents as Officer Friendly and to other people as Officer Not-So-Friendly. There were those that used the parks as shooting galleries (heroin users). There was the occasional wienie-wagger (sorry, cop jargon). There were individuals who would carve a small hole into the partition between two bathroom stalls and wait, usually for kids. As the song says: what a wonderful world.

There were times that I had to use some muscle to remind certain individuals that this was my area and they were going to do things my way. I have never felt the need to apologize for that. Some people are just slow learners and will not stop their self-absorbed and entitled behavior until you physically stop them.

Ferguson and Baltimore are perfect examples of the anarchy that results from allowing that kind of behavior to continue unchecked. It is difficult enough to deal with one person like that, but when you have hundreds gathered together that are beyond the reach of reason, your cities are on the road to hell. Chicago has been on that road for quite a while and I know who to blame. When you listen to the mayors of these cities, you soon learn it isn’t just their criminals that are beyond the reach of reason.

Sometimes, police work provides warm fuzzies; sometimes, it is violent. That is just the nature of the job. My advice to city leaders is to reward the good citizen with the warm fuzzies. The criminal should be not rewarded with a hug and then release.

James B. Comey, the Director of the FBI, spoke at his alma mater the University of Chicago Law School last week. I have linked to his entire speech, but here are some excerpts that deserve your attention. First, on mass incarceration:

Each drug dealer, each mugger, each killer, and each felon with a gun had his own lawyer, his own case, his own time before judge and jury, his own sentencing, and, in many cases, an appeal or other post-sentencing review. There were thousands and thousands of those individual cases, but to speak of “mass incarceration” I believe is confusing, and it distorts an important reality.

And we must stare hard at reality if we are to make good decisions.

Then, on officers’ growing reluctance to use proactive policing in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore:

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?

I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, “We feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.”

I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country.

And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.

Part of that behavior change is to be welcomed, as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force.

Those are essential discussions and law enforcement will get better as a result.

But we can’t lose sight of the fact that there really are bad people standing on the street with guns. The young men dying on street corners all across this country are not committing suicide or being shot by the cops. They are being killed, police chiefs tell me, by other young men with guns.

Lives are saved when those potential killers are confronted by a strong police presence and actual, honest-to-goodness, up-close “What are you guys doing on this corner at one o’clock in the morning?” policing. All of us, civilian and law enforcement, white, black, and Latino, have an interest in that kind of policing.

We need to be careful it doesn’t drift away from us in the age of viral videos, or there will be profound consequences. If we are not careful, we will lose the space in American life to talk about criminal justice reform—to focus on recidivism and re-entry and sentencing reform—and to talk about effective police interactions with civilians, all of which are essential.

Do read the whole thing.

There are 18 comments.

  1. Merina Smith Inactive

    Thanks. I appreciate this post. It’s very interesting to hear about policing firsthand. I love it that you regarded the places you protected as your neighborhoods. That’s wonderful. My goodness, how much we all owe to the people who risk their lives to protect us all. Our favorite TV show is Blue Bloods. I think it does a good job of presenting from many perspectives the difficult line policemen walk on a daily basis.

    • #1
    • October 26, 2015, at 9:00 AM PDT
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  2. Dave of Barsham Member

    I’ve been curious as to how well broken windows scales downward in size. The city my mother lives in seems to be sliding into more and more violence because of it’s proximity to Memphis, TN (which has become Detroit-like in its gang culture). Does the same type of Police work used in Guliani’s New York work in a town of 70,000 or so?

    • #2
    • October 26, 2015, at 9:16 AM PDT
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  3. Aaron Miller Member

    Recently, I’ve seen a couple viral videos of police officers acting as gentlemen and heroes. There’s no putting the YouTube genie back in the bottle. But we can at least balance the bad press with good press.

    Good people often don’t wish to be seen doing their good deeds. But it is important to set examples. God knows the humble man’s heart, if the wicked and the cynical mistake him for a vain performer.

    • #3
    • October 26, 2015, at 9:43 AM PDT
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  4. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt Post author

    lesserson:I’ve been curious as to how well broken windows scales downward in size. The city my mother lives in seems to be sliding into more and more violence because of it’s proximity to Memphis, TN (which has become Detroit-like in its gang culture). Does the same type of Police work used in Guliani’s New York work in a town of 70,000 or so?

    The Portland Police Bureau has the day shift officer of a district meet with citizens or citizens groups in their district. The reason for this is that officer becomes their police officer. The day shift officer passes along the neighbors concerns to the afternoon and night shift officer. There are times that the afternoon and night officer will pay a follow-up visit to discuss a neighbor’s concerns. So those officers become their officers.

    Portland also has a Gang Enforcement Team and a Gun Task Force. Felons and juveniles that are arrested with a firearm are charged with those gun possession crimes and are prosecuted by the DA’s office for those crimes in addition to any other charges that are applicable.

    This type of policing would certainly work in your mom’s city.

    • #4
    • October 26, 2015, at 10:06 AM PDT
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  5. David Carroll Thatcher

    I was the chief legal advisor for a small police force for 25 years. I came away understanding that there are good officers and bad officers, and sometimes it is the same officer on different days in different situations. Some officer enjoy being bullies. Some enjoy helping people. Again, sometimes the same officer on different days.

    Outside work, my experiences with officers has been nearly 100% positive, but I don’t sport tattoos, gang dress, or a generally disrespectful attitude.

    I wish we did not need police officers at all, but we do.

    • #5
    • October 26, 2015, at 10:13 AM PDT
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  6. Pencilvania Inactive

    Great speech by the FBI Director.

    I’ve never studied trends in law enforcement, so my perceptions are just from news-reading, I’m lucky to be on the outside of most of these issues. But the change that I sense in criminal justice in the last few years seems to come from the inscrutable unmooring of public support for police, and by ‘public’ I mean ‘public officials.’ Probably it was always the case that mayors would ream out police chiefs for problems or corruption when warranted, but I think it took place in private. It’s glaringly public now, and I see it as inherently destructive. The toll it takes on morale must be terrible.

    In Philly our police commissioner, Charles Ramsay, announced he’s retiring soon. He’s been a very good guy, on the up-and-up, and I am worried that he is leaving. The next mayor of the city will be Democrat Jim Kenney (there is a R candidate in the race, nobody takes it seriously that she has the slightest chance.) Kenney is a Black-Lives-Matter union boot-licker and I feel terrible for the people who are trapped in the bad sections of the city.

    • #6
    • October 26, 2015, at 10:19 AM PDT
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  7. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt Post author

    David Carroll:I was the chief legal advisor for a small police force for 25 years. I came away understanding that there are good officers and bad officers, and sometimes it is the same officer on different days in different situations. Some officer enjoy being bullies. Some enjoy helping people. Again, sometimes the same officer on different days.

    Outside work, my experiences with officers has been nearly 100% positive, but I don’t sport tattoos, gang dress, or a generally disrespectful attitude.

    I wish we did not need police officers at all, but we do.

    Unfortunately like any other profession there are good officers and then there are officers that should have found another way to make a living. When an officer does something stupid or worse illegal it reflects on every officer that wears a badge and uniform.

    • #7
    • October 26, 2015, at 10:24 AM PDT
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  8. David Carroll Thatcher

    Doug Watt:

    Unfortunately like any other profession there are good officers and then there are officers that should have found another way to make a living. When an officer does something stupid or worse illegal it reflects on every officer that wears a badge and uniform.

    Over the years I had several police chiefs who seemed to do great then something happened. In one case, chief started taking confiscated money from the evidence locker and using it for police needs without seeking or obtaining the necessary court orders. Good intentions, bad execution.

    • #8
    • October 26, 2015, at 10:37 AM PDT
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  9. Trinity Waters Inactive

    David Carroll:

    Doug Watt:

    Unfortunately like any other profession there are good officers and then there are officers that should have found another way to make a living. When an officer does something stupid or worse illegal it reflects on every officer that wears a badge and uniform.

    Over the years I had several police chiefs who seemed to do great then something happened. In one case, chief started taking confiscated money from the evidence locker and using it for police needs without seeking or obtaining the necessary court orders. Good intentions, bad execution.

    Bad execution? That’s what theft is called when his “intentions” are good? Language matters, and calling theft what it is instead of using weasel words would help the public maintain confidence in their police forces.

    Good post, BTW. Enjoyed the inside look at attitude.

    • #9
    • October 26, 2015, at 12:52 PM PDT
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  10. David Carroll Thatcher

    Tom Riehl:Bad execution? That’s what theft is called when his “intentions” are good? Language matters, and calling theft what it is instead of using weasel words would help the public maintain confidence in their police forces.

    Good post, BTW. Enjoyed the inside look at attitude.

    Theft, technically yes, but the circumstances were such that the court would have ordered the forfeiture if he had gone the the proper channels. He did not line his own pockets.

    • #10
    • October 26, 2015, at 1:21 PM PDT
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  11. Front Seat Cat Member

    Pencilvania:Great speech by the FBI Director.

    I’ve never studied trends in law enforcement, so my perceptions are just from news-reading, I’m lucky to be on the outside of most of these issues. But the change that I sense in criminal justice in the last few years seems to come from the inscrutable unmooring of public support for police, and by ‘public’ I mean ‘public officials.’ Probably it was always the case that mayors would ream out police chiefs for problems or corruption when warranted, but I think it took place in private. It’s glaringly public now, and I see it as inherently destructive. The toll it takes on morale must be terrible.

    In Philly our police commissioner, Charles Ramsay, announced he’s retiring soon. He’s been a very good guy, on the up-and-up, and I am worried that he is leaving. The next mayor of the city will be Democrat Jim Kenney (there is a R candidate in the race, nobody takes it seriously that she has the slightest chance.) Kenney is a Black-Lives-Matter union boot-licker and I feel terrible for the people who are trapped in the bad sections of the city.

    Isn’t Philly hosting the Democratic Convention? Good luck – the seat of freedom – may the Bell of Liberty drown out the current message that only certain lives matter……”All Lives Matter” , irregardless of color, including officers, the unborn. “Stop Shooting Each Other” should be the slogan.

    • #11
    • October 26, 2015, at 3:15 PM PDT
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  12. Michael S Inactive

    An interesting perspective – thanks for sharing.

    I’m currently applying to become a policeman, albeit one in New Zealand or Australia, where attitudes toward law enforcement are much healthier than what you describe, fortunately. The challenge American police face of improving public perception and fighting crime is enormous.

    • #12
    • October 26, 2015, at 3:24 PM PDT
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  13. Front Seat Cat Member

    Has anyone noticed the attitude change within our whole society? Change via intimidation…..whether you are a baker, a Christian clerical worker, a law officer, medical personnel (being limited by new health laws), a champion for the right to life, a small business owner – there seems to be so much hostility, rather than respect for each person, their profession, quality of care and skill, their beliefs. There have always been bad eggs in every profession – law enforcement 99% of the time is good – our protectors.

    I read a comment on a site recently where the comment was from an ex-military turned officer who said if people knew how many times lives were saved during bloody shootings, gangs, drugs, situations gone wrong, where black individuals lay dying from interactions in these circumstances…..he described stopping bleeding wounds, giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation waiting for the ambulance, ducking gunfire…….the countless stories that take place every day and night in every city….never make it into the news or on the all important “you tube” video. He said it is part of what I signed up for. Maybe it should be on a video.

    They should be thanked by the communities in which they serve.

    • #13
    • October 26, 2015, at 3:30 PM PDT
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  14. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt Post author

    Michael S:An interesting perspective – thanks for sharing.

    I’m currently applying to become a policeman, albeit one in New Zealand or Australia, where attitudes toward law enforcement are much healthier than what you describe, fortunately. The challenge American police face of improving public perception and fighting crime is enormous.

    I wish you all the best in you endeavor to become a police officer. I never regretted my decision to become an officer. My time on the streets is over. What I miss most of all are the officers I served with, the roll calls, and one good deed by pulling a 19 year-old female jumper away from a bridge railing. There were some other good deeds that come to mind from time to time.

    • #14
    • October 26, 2015, at 5:13 PM PDT
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  15. GrannyDude Member

    Doug Watt: And we must stare hard at reality if we are to make good decisions.

    My philosophy in a nutshell. And why I tend to love cops.

    God bless you, Doug.

    • #15
    • October 26, 2015, at 6:07 PM PDT
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  16. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt Post author

    Kate Braestrup:

    Doug Watt: And we must stare hard at reality if we are to make good decisions.

    My philosophy in a nutshell. And why I tend to love cops.

    God bless you, Doug.

    Thanks Kate. I always try to present the street cops’ view no matter what agency they represent. That’s where my loyalty rests. By the way the White House and the DOJ are very upset with Director Comey’s remarks. As an old line cop my reply would be: To hell with them. I could care less what the White House thinks. Eric Holder was never wrestling around in the gutter with any street cop at 0200 hours nor were any of his attorneys when that street cop was trying to get someone in the backseat of a police car. Perhaps because he was too busy selling firearms to Mexican drug cartels, but then again who knows.

    Sorry Kate, not all the rough edges have worn way. I’m a work in progress, but I’m working on it.

    • #16
    • October 26, 2015, at 7:14 PM PDT
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  17. Sandy Member

    It is encouraging to hear Comey speak the truth, even though it is discouraging that similar words have not come out of our President’s mouth. What a difference that would make.

    I’ve lived through times of high crime in iffy neighborhoods, where the people who suffered far and away the most from violent crime were black and poor. I’d thought, naively, that we had put that behind us. I am beginning to think that Ben Carson, who is certainly clear-headed on this issue, and able to speak with special moral force, needs to be on the ticket.

    • #17
    • October 26, 2015, at 7:29 PM PDT
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  18. GrannyDude Member

    Doug Watt:

    Kate Braestrup:

    Doug Watt: And we must stare hard at reality if we are to make good decisions.

    My philosophy in a nutshell. And why I tend to love cops.

    God bless you, Doug.

    Thanks Kate. I always try to present the street cops’ view no matter what agency they represent. That’s where my loyalty rests. By the way the White House and the DOJ are very upset with Director Comey’s remarks. As an old line cop my reply would be: To hell with them. I could care less what the White House thinks. Eric Holder was never wrestling around in the gutter with any street cop at 0200 hours nor were any of his attorneys when that street cop was trying to get someone in the backseat of a police car. Perhaps because he was too busy selling firearms to Mexican drug cartels, but then again who knows.

    Sorry Kate, not all the rough edges have worn way. I’m a work in progress, but I’m working on it.

    I saw the White House reaction too—so frustrating. And unhelpful. And disloyal. And stupid.

    I have a theory, by the way, about why Obama is doing this—getting on the anti-police bandwagon. This perplexed me for awhile, mostly because it just seemed so counter-factual—he has to have access to information and to people who could explain the real world in words of seventeen syllables (he likes those). He has to know that there’s a causal relationship between the number of violent crimes committed by African American males and the number law enforcement “contacts,” arrests and uses of force/deadly force involving African American males. He has to know all of what Comey says is true. So why is he pretending not to know it?

    Then I read that unemployment for African American males (usually around twice the percentage as for white males) has increased substantially on his watch.

    If things are getting worse for African Americans, they’re going to be unhappy (understandable). So maybe his “I’m with y’all, against the po-po!” is misdirection—“your life isn’t getting harder because of my policies! It’s racism! Yeah! Let’s fight racism!”

    • #18
    • October 27, 2015, at 5:41 PM PDT
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