July 2016 Warning Bells article

De-escalation or Disengagement?

There is a simple way to reduce the biased policing complaints and lots of other complaints,  for that matter. Stop making investigative stops. This would also reduce uses of force. How  many foot pursuits, vehicle pursuits and officer-involved shootings start with an investigative  stop? Sixteen of the 48 shootings in 2015 (33 percent) began with an observation investigative  stop. So, if we can reduce officer-involved shootings by a third, biased policing complaints probably by 90 percent, and a large share of other personnel complaints with one fell swoop by  simply not making investigative stops, why don’t we? This should make a pleased Police  Commission.

Well, the 50 percent rise in violent crime might have something to do with that. And the 50 percent rise in crime might have something to do with the fact that observational stops are way  down from previous years thanks to the lack of support that field officers on the street are feeling. So, this seems to be a vicious circle. Fewer stops mean more crime? Not to former LAPD Chief William Bratton.

In the April issue of American Police Beat, Bratton, now commissioner of NYPD, writes an article disavowing the need for investigative stops. Bratton has the same problem we do, crime on the rise. People on the right, he says, are saying that crime is raging out of control because of the steep decline in street stops, and people on the left are telling him that NYPD is criminalizing minorities with too many stops and arrests for minor crimes. He has chosen a different path for NYPD. He is undertaking a sweeping series of reforms. He wants “skilled officers, not arrest machines.”

Compared to the highs in the previous decade, NYPD made a million fewer public contacts. Street stops went down by 670,000. There were 250,000 fewer summons, and 82,000 fewer arrests. Imagine what would happen to you in recap-happy LAPD if numbers plunged like that out here. Bratton, however, was not troubled, even though stop-and-frisks have gone down 96 percent since 2011 . That is because he is tasking NYPD with a new approach to crushing crime (he hopes). He is directing his investigators to redouble their efforts into local pockets of violence. He refers to it as precision policing.

Basically, he has created violence reduction task forces among specialty detectives, local detectives and local patrol officers to “hone in on local violent actors, build cases against them and take them off the streets.” He has placed intelligence officers in all of their divisions who use “relentless interrogations of arrested criminals to establish leads and develop warrants to arrest those with illegal firearms.” According to Bratton, “targeted investigations in 2015 took 998 guns off the street-more than were seized in the course of 694,000 stops at the height of stop and frisk in 2011.” In line with this, he has created a new Gun Suppression Division of 200 officers who will focus on gun prosecutions.

So, will this be the new wave that sweeps from East to West? Remember “Broken Windows?” That started back East and eventually became standard doctrine across the nation. The new book is “Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship” by Epp, Maynard-Moody and Haider-Markel. The good news in this book, which should be read by the Police Commission, is that officers aren’t the racists, the Department (aka, the Police Commission) is the racist. Pay attention, Mr. Saltzman, the book says flatly that it is a “faulty assumption” that racial disparities in police stops are the product of discriminatory police officers. It is the “institutionalized practice” of the agency that is discriminatory. The frantic search for the cop guilty of biased policing is misplaced. The Chief and the Police Commission, implies the book, should look in the mirror to find the racist. “It is our thesis that a specific, well-entrenched, institutionalized practice of the investigatory stop is the main source of racial disparities in police stops and why the racial minorities subjected to these stops view them as deeply unfair even if carried out by a  polite, respectful officer. The investigatory stop is the deliberate creation of police leaders, led by police professional associations, policing researchers, and police chiefs.”

“Simply put,” the book says, “what has emerged in the past two decades is an institutionalized practice rather than the haphazard activity of individual officers.” Has the Constitutional Policing Unit checked this out?

On the other side of this argument is the belief that investigatory stops are necessary. Aggressive patrol is based on the strategy of maximizing interventions and observations in the community-surveilling, stopping and searching as many persons as possible, especially the suspicious ones. This would reduce crime by increasing the likelihood that the police would find fugitives, detect contraband and apprehend persons fleeing from the scene of a crime.

LAPD management and the Police Commission need to lead. If investigatory stops are believed to be the way to reduce crime, then it must be realized that biased policing complaints will be rolling in and there will be a higher number of officer-involved shootings. The Department and Commission must accept their share of responsibility for this and get off the officers’ backs.

On the other hand, if Bratton is believed to be right, then tell officers straight out to stop doing investigative stops and form the violence task forces. But tell the officers what to do. Do not vacillate between officer stand-down lectures and orders to attack the predators and then second-guess and Monday-morning quarterback the officers every time there is a complaint or a use of force.

The practical message to the patrol officers right now is to disengage.  They have always tried to de-escalate.  Career survival says, get off the street: if you can’t, just answer the radio: windows up, smile and wave.  Fortunately, many are still trying to address the crime problem.  They need leadership, not constant criticism from both the Department and the Police Commission.  They need to be defended from the current blast of anti-police sentiment and all the so-called “reforms.”  Reforms are needed far less than support.  We don’t need a new Use of Force Policy.  We need a clear crime-fighting policy and leaders who lead from the front and protect their troops from the flak.  There are bad guys out there who need to be dealt with.

Be Legally careful out there.

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