from the spinning-bullshit-into-morale dept
Very few people in law enforcement want to be told the truth. Fortunately for them, those that speak to and for law enforcement are similarly uninterested in speaking the truth. The man at the top of the law enforcement food chain — Attorney General Bill Barr — has turned his second tour at the head of the DOJ into a bullhorn for the airing of law enforcement grievances. He encourages their unwillingness to comprehend the damage they’ve done has led directly to the animosity they’re now experiencing. He reflects their unearned outrage, allowing them to feel their anger is righteous.
It isn’t. But that’s not what any law enforcement officers or officials are hearing from Bill Barr. His speech to the Major Cities Chiefs Association contains little more than unbridled support for law enforcement and disdain for the ungrateful public. It’s also full of provably wrong assertions. Apparently, if cops must be lied to improve their morale, it’s lies they will get, courtesy of the head of the DOJ.
Barr opens up by bashing the media for turning cops into villains. He doesn’t actually cite the “bad apple” analogy, but it’s in there, even if it’s unspoken.
[T]he climate today has made the job 10 times more difficult than it has to be. It is a climate in which politicians are sometimes inclined not to support the police and sometimes they throw the police to the dogs. And it is also characterized by a deceitful national media that seizes on a relatively few incidents to scapegoat police as a whole and cultivate a false narrative that our police are systemically evil.
Cops are facing difficulty because more people with power are finally interested in holding them accountable for their actions. And the incidents are not “relatively few.” They are daily occurrences. They happen multiple times a day. Every so often, one of them provokes national outrage. But most come and go without much notice outside of the local area. The number of bad cops willing to abuse and kill citizens may be a small percentage of the total force, but it’s the larger number that allows these cops to remain employed and unaccountable. And throwing police “to the dogs” is an interesting turn of phrase, considering how often cops are willing to throw citizens to their dogs.
Barr needs everyone to believe holding cops accountable will result in increased criminal activity. To do so, he must bend the truth. Here’s him twisting something provably false into a conclusory statement that says only hardline cop tactics can keep an unruly populace in line.
As you know, I served as Attorney General in the early 90’s, ’91 and ’92, when violent crime rates were at an all-time high – twice the level it is today. We got there through three-decades of lenience – the 60s, 70s and 80s – with soft-on-crime policies very much like those that many states are now adopting – with revolving-door justice, sky-high recidivism rates, and an unwillingness to take chronic violent predators off the street.
This led to the unbelievable carnage which peaked in 1992. The country came to its senses and there was a consensus that we had to strengthen our criminal justice systems and start targeting and incapacitate the chronic violent offenders that have always been responsible for the lion’s share of violent crime.
Those policies worked as they always do and always will work. For over 20 years we had falling crime rates, and violent crime was cut in half from its peak.
But these policies didn’t work. And if they didn’t work — or at least are not solely responsible for falling crime — then they sure as fuck don’t always work. Here’s just one of several studies showing no conclusive link between “tough on crime” policies and lower crime rates:
What Caused the Crime Decline? examines one of the nation’s least understood recent phenomena – the dramatic decline in crime nationwide over the past two decades – and analyzes various theories for why it occurred, by reviewing more than 40 years of data from all 50 states and the 50 largest cities. It concludes that over-harsh criminal justice policies, particularly increased incarceration, which rose even more dramatically over the same period, were not the main drivers of the crime decline. In fact, the report finds that increased incarceration has been declining in its effectiveness as a crime control tactic for more than 30 years. Its effect on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000.
More important were various social, economic, and environmental factors, such as growth in income and an aging population. The introduction of CompStat, a data-driven policing technique, also played a significant role in reducing crime in cities that introduced it.
There’s what worked: a whole lot of different things all coming together to bring crime down to historic lows. Even as crime numbers have dropped, killings by police officers haven’t. Barr wants to applaud officers for participating in bringing crime down, but doesn’t want them held accountable for actions they’ve taken that have undermined the public’s trust in their law enforcement agencies.
The list of complaints goes on and on. Barr decries the “demonization” of police following the George Floyd killing and claims attempts to rein in police power will just lead us back to the high crime 90s, as if that era was devoid of tough-on-crime politicians. And he has no time for advocates who suggest putting some police funds to better use might benefit society as a whole.
It is said, that you cannot address crime by going after the criminals, but you have to address the “root causes” of crime – which means more social spending. The defund the police movement reflects this philosophy – take funding from police and put it more into social programs.
But this is a false dichotomy. I think everyone here today would agree that tough law enforcement cannot be the only solution for crime. We must also address the pathologies that contribute to crime. But they are not alternative approaches. They must complement each other. Strong law enforcement may not be able to do it alone – but it is indispensable – there can be no solutions without it. Law and order is the foundation of all social progress.
On the face of the Department of Justice building in Washington there is the Latin inscription which reads, and I am translating: “From law and order, everything else flows.” All the social programs in the world will not result in a hill of beans if there is carnage on the streets.
Very few people are suggesting shutting down law enforcement agencies and replacing them with social programs. It’s Barr who’s offering up a false dichotomy. And he’s doing it with superheated language, suggesting cuts to law enforcement agency budgets will lead to “carnage.” This is familiar rhetoric — something offered up by former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg after a federal court found the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program unconstitutional. The criminal apocalypse promised by the mayor and NYPD officials failed to materialize when the department was forced to go a little “softer” on crime.
Barr then purposely mis-defines “community policing” so it fits his narrative.
Community policing is great, and all of us are for community policing. But somehow the soft-on-crime crowd thinks of it (and they are not really sure what it means, they like it, it’s a nice buzz word) as an alternative to a strong police response to crime. They think it’s an alternative targeting the chronic violent offenders and getting them off our streets, it’s a nice idea because it does not require that kind of tough action. But it is not an alternative. In fact, it does not work at all unless you have a strong criminal justice system that is effective in taking those offenders off the street. People are not going to cooperate with police and identify the predators for the police if they think the criminal is going to be out on the street the next day.
People still want a strong response to serious crime. What they don’t want is being treated like criminals just because they’re a certain race or live in certain neighborhoods. They want cops to have a relationship with the people they serve — something that goes beyond viewing almost every resident as a potential perp. They want law enforcement agencies to understand the challenges they face and to use their power appropriately to make people’s lives better, rather than just rack up meaningless arrest numbers that leave communities underserved and overpoliced.
Barr also misstates the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies. The supposed thin blue line is very thin, indeed. But Barr apparently believes his own hype.
As long as I can remember, the police, at the front end, have done a pretty good job. They identify and catch the criminal.
That’s simply not true. They catch some criminals because some criminals are easy to catch. But when it matters most, cops simply don’t get the job done.
[I]n the last 10 years, some 26,000 murders in major US cities went without an arrest…
Maybe it’s time for some actual community policing.
The [Washington Post] said police attributed much of their difficulty solving the homicides to strained relationships with residents — for instance, the officers may be aware of the killer, but unable to convince witnesses to cooperate.
That’s the big one. And the cops aren’t doing much better with smaller crimes.
Low arrest rates are an issue not just for murders, but for most crimes in general. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, just 45.5% of all violent crime cases reported to police in America were “cleared,” typically meaning a suspect was arrested, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
When it came to property crimes, the clearance rate was much lower, at just 17.6%.
According to Barr, the problem here is everyone else, not the fine men and women in blue.
It is the rest of the system that often falls down – the prosecution and adjudication of the case, and even the corrections system and the reentry system, and the system of guarding against recidivism. These are where our weaknesses are today, not the effectiveness of the police.
The police have failed no one. Everyone fails the police. That’s the takeaway from Barr’s bitter speech, one delivered to presumably equally-bitter (and equally-entitled) police officials.
Finally, Barr says no one should touch qualified immunity. It should protect officers from their own actions — the way it almost always has in the past. It should keep them from being held personally accountable for violating rights. Barr wants this left the way it is: let the courts use the Supreme Court’s truly despicable precedent to avoid setting standards for officers, allowing them to wield their deliberate ignorance of laws and rights with maximum efficiency.
Barr does believe one thing should change: the general public.
If we wish to minimize excessive-force situations, the most important step we could take is to re-establish the principle that there is no valid justification for physically resisting a police officer. It used to be understood in this society, and that’s why we have strong laws against resisting police. Resisting police puts everyone in jeopardy. It leads to an escalating situation which endangers the suspect and it endangers the officer, and it endangers bystanders and innocent members of the public. And we must have zero tolerance once again for physical resistance to officers. That will save lives. It will save the lives of our police officers, and of suspects and of citizens.
Take your beatings and like it, America. Stop resisting even if you aren’t resisting. Allow cops to chant the “stop resisting” mantra as they brutalize your non-resisting body. Do it for America.
The whole speech — and it’s very long — is worth reading. It clearly shows the AG’s disdain for anyone who isn’t him, the administration, or a law enforcement officer. Barr is supposed to be serving the public’s best interests. But ever since he took office under Trump, he’s only served the government. This is a man who thinks respect for law enforcement can be forced on citizens. He’s wrong. But he’s also very dangerous.
Filed Under: doj, law and order, police, william barr