Jeff Dunetz wrote earlier about the dramatic drop-off in routine policing in New York City following the ambush murders of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. I have this to say about that.
1. Each version of this report (originally broken by the New York Post) has emphasized that the police officers feel betrayed by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. (See, for example, John Hawkins’ summary.) And that’s a fully justified ding on de Blasio, but it triggers the wrong response in the reader.
Jeff did a good job, I thought, of at least letting the real point speak for itself. The real point is that the whipped-up political atmosphere in fact makes the job of the police much more dangerous, on a random and unpredictable basis.
If you look at which crimes the police aren’t responding to now, it’s nuisance crimes. They’re not writing traffic or parking tickets, not walking the beat looking for disorderly conduct, not out looking for drug users, public drinking or urination, etc – and not responding to nearly as many calls about these things.
The police haven’t stopped responding to violent-crime emergencies or major property crime. But their union leaders have very properly concluded that they need to respond with a larger force to all crime scenes, and that they need to minimize their incidental exposure on the streets otherwise. Those two factors mean that police manpower has been re-allocated significantly.
The cops aren’t doing this out of spite, or to make a political point. The union leaders and the precinct commanders wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t insist on working conditions for the patrol cops that give them the least exposure to an unpredictable threat, and the best chance of going home alive for another day.
This is a real problem, and one the police leadership would be highly irresponsible to ignore. Ignoring it would be comparable to our military commanders in Iraq or Afghanistan seeing new threats emerge – threats that were getting soldiers killed – and not changing anything about their patrol policies or tactics.
We can expect to see policies similar to the NYPD’s creep into other law enforcement agencies across the country, as long as ambush attempts on the cops keep cropping up. The Los Angeles police, for example, were targeted by one in South LA on Sunday. The police can’t know where the next one will occur.
3. If you didn’t know, you do now: the bargain of the public with law enforcement doesn’t involve law enforcement officers offering themselves up as sacrifices, so that the public doesn’t have to grow up, behave like adults, or get its house in order.
That’s not the function of the police, any more than it’s the function of soldiers to die so that politicians and the public don’t have to adopt better national security policies. We don’t suit up either our military or law enforcement professionals to go forth and serve as bullet sponges, so that the rest of us can remain “innocent” and disengaged, at liberty to focus on video games, race politics, and Kardashians.
The police, inherently, are an arm of force: wielded or threatened, as deterrence, against criminals. They’re not a “force field” that’s there to take hits for us. They’re only doing their jobs if they can represent actual positive or offensive force – whether they have to literally use it or not.
As a self-governing public, it’s on us to take responsibility for what the purpose and the concept of that positive, offensive force are. Even more fundamentally, it’s on us to understand that that’s what we have to do. When we get to voting age, we have to see ourselves as the people who wield the force, for our purposes, and stop seeing ourselves as little children who are merely protected (or annoyed) by it.
When you see the police out there on your streets, think of them as professionals whom you have dispatched to do a job. That perspective has a number of implications, and the only one we seem to be hearing about lately is the exaggerated implication that the police ought to take orders from us, no matter how stupid or irresponsible the orders are, because they “work for us.”
But one of the most important ways we are on the hook to be good “bosses” is to be solicitous of their working conditions and safety.
We are responsible for knowing — in a general sense — what it is we ask them to do.
We’re responsible for distinguishing between good policy and bad, when the case is laid before us.
We’re responsible for picking political leaders who will commission the police in a conscientious and morally accountable way.
If we aren’t keeping our side of the bargain in good faith, their job becomes increasingly un-executable.
4. A small minority of radicals has us in a tizzy right now, thinking that the problem we’re all dealing with here is race. It’s not. The problem is the small minority of radicals. They are the threat to law and order. Not black people, not white people, not the police. It’s the leftist radicals – and almost every one of the rest of us, regardless of race or profession, is together on the other side.
(I exclude white-supremacist bigots from this collective. They’re also radicals. They may not espouse leftist ideology, but they are definitely not on the side of true liberty, tolerance, or law and order.)
Daniel Greenfield said it well on Sunday:
[Nicholas] Kristof reminds us once again that the protests are as violent and bigoted as any Klan rally and that their supporters and cheerleaders are violent racists, thrilling to beating up convenience store workers and burning buildings.
That is what the left has always been. That is what it always is. That is why there is no living with the left. You can’t live with people whose idea of social justice is killing you and burning your house down.
You can’t. We’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do about that. But don’t expect the police to accept greater danger to themselves while our lower-information voters slowly realize the obvious: that Bill de Blasio represents the violent radicals and their mainstream stooges, rather than the law-abiding people of New York City. It’s not the police force’s job to court extra danger so that we can remain fools.