“Building Trust” in the Police through Non-Enforcement Is Also Baloney

In my last entry, I noted that the routine, caustic phrase pasted on the United States by “criminal justice reformers”  —  “incarceration nation”  —  is hogwash.  Ninety-nine and a-half percent of the population is not incarcerated, and the fraction of one percent who are generally did quite a bit to earn it.

I now want to address another whooper told by the reformers:  That the police can “build trust” in the community by taking a more relaxed attitude toward crime, and generally by “de-escalating” enforcement.  This argument is all the rage in faculty lounges in Palo Alto, New Haven, Cambridge, etc.  But, as the Baltimore Sun tells us, it’s anything but the rage with the actual communities that have been the unwilling experimental rats of dumbed-down policing.

The headline of the Sun’s story is “Fells Point businesses threaten to withhold taxes if Baltimore does not address crime, drug dealing and other issues.”  Here’s how it starts:

More than 30 business and restaurant owners in Fells Point are threatening to withhold taxes if city leaders do not address crime, trash and other issues they say are plaguing the waterfront neighborhood.

The group sent a letter to Baltimore officials Tuesday — two days after three people were shot in the popular and historic nightlife destination early Sunday morning — complaining about blatant drug sales, public drinking and other problems they say are happening in plain sight while police are handcuffed from enforcing the law.

The letter bemoans a “culture of lawlessness” that allows the ” the kinds of violence and tragedy we witnessed (over the weekend).”

The letter is a sharp response not only to the violence of the weekend, but also to the policies of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who earlier this year announced that she will no longer prosecute a host of crimes, including drug possession, public drinking and urination, and trespassing, among others.

Hey, wait, weren’t we told that if the cops would just take it easy and, say, hold more bake sales, the community would become more peaceable and livable?  Where are the people who kept telling us that?  Oh, right, they don’t live anywhere near the neighborhoods they’re happy to sacrifice to their some-other-universe ideas.

Zy Richardson, spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office, issued a statement saying the fights and shooting in Fells Point had nothing to do with the office policies to cease prosecuting nonviolent crimes.

”The assaults, the malicious destruction of personal and private property, and the shooting that took place in Fells Point this past weekend has nothing to do with our policies to divert those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders,” the statement said.

Of course!  Everybody’s sick, nobody’s bad.  Where have we seen that before?  (Hint:  On defense counsels’ word processors, which haven’t been refurbished in 50 long years).

Vignarajah [an attorney representing Fells Point businesses] said many communities across the city have similar frustrations about trash and crime….He said the group of businesses are speaking up not just for themselves, but for their customers and employees, and other communities.

“I think they are hoping to speak up on behalf of the entire city,” he said. “They know these problems are happening all over the city.”

The letter points particularly at what the business and restaurant owners say are the very public crimes taking place nightly that discourage people from visiting the neighborhood and hurts their ability to keep businesses running.

“These are not concealed, clandestine operations by sophisticated gangs with suppliers and lookouts. These are brazen individuals who conduct their business in plain sight because they know Baltimore City will do nothing to prevent or punish them,” the letter read. “This hurts the family fabric and tourist value of the community.”

Once again, we see where the mantra about “building community trust” by standing down on enforcement is not only not the truth; it’s the opposite of the truth.  It does not build respect for or trust in the police, but instead builds disappointment with them in law abiding people and contempt for them by open air criminals.

If the police want to build trust, it’s easy:  Do the job the taxpayers are paying them to do  —  preserve safety, property, and a reasonably decent sense of public order.  Do so with discipline and judgment but without apology.  When the police do that, they get oodles of community good will (a lot more, I might add, than lawyers do).  When they don’t, what we get is Baltimore.

UPDATE: Paul Mirengoff’s typically insightful discussion is here.



3 Responses

  1. Christopher Rudolph says:

    You write that the people who argue for less policing and less enforcement “don’t live anywhere near the neighborhoods they’re happy to sacrifice.” How would you reconcile this claim with reports that progressive D.A. Larry Krasner won “with overwhelming support” in “West Philadelphia, where the last year has been marked by unprecedented gun violence”?

    If what you’re suggesting were true, wouldn’t West Philadelphia be the most likely to vote against Krasner?

    It is telling that the group complaining in your example is made up of businesses and property owners–but not residents. Businesses may be more likely to discount the costs of over-policing, especially negative police interactions and incarceration of friends/family/neighbors. For this reason (among others), businesses may value enforcement of “public order” offenses more than the residents who live in the community.

    • Bill Otis says:

      Several points.

      First, Krasner does not direct policing. That is done by the mayor, the city managing director, and the police commissioner. I wouldn’t be surprised if their views were similar to Krasner’s, but I don’t know that they are, either.

      Second, to whatever unknown extent support for Krasner translates into support for less policing, Krasner did not get the endorsement of the City Democratic Committee — something that’s very unusual and revealing.

      Third, I don’t know who or where the votes came from in West Philadelphia. That’s a big area, with some areas decently safe and others awful. You’d need a precinct-by-precinct breakdown to see which parts voted for whom.

      Fourth, that said, Philly is a one-party town, and those who turn out in the primary are a relative small handful of the most ideological sorts. So I don’t know that the Philly primary for DA tells us much about the overall electorate’s views about prosecutorial policy, much less police deployment.

      “It is telling that the group complaining in your example is made up of businesses and property owners–but not residents.” Do you know that the business and property owners are NOT residents? I don’t. But putting that to one side, the business owners are going to be concerned principally when the crime and drug dealing keep customers away, so their concerns are therefore a reliable proxy for the concerns of the residents who would otherwise be their main source of patronage.

      “Businesses may be more likely to discount the costs of over-policing…” With all respect, the idea that Baltimore’s problem is over-policing — when murder was already a national disgrace before the pandemic and increased yet more during that time — is, shall we say, not realistic.

      See also my entry from a year ago, recounting the views of a Baltimore minister with wide experience in the city, https://www.crimeandconsequences.blog/?p=1312#more-1312.

    • Bill Otis says:

      As if on cue to answer your question, the Baltimore Sun has this follow-up article about how more city residents are also complaining that they have insufficient policing, but that only the more prominent part of the city (Fells Point) seems to be getting any additional help by way of more police presence. https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-prem-md-ci-fells-point-reaction-20210611-afg42rjoc5f2lf4kednukcdzfe-story.html

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