New York City witnessed a 166 percent increase in the number of shootings in August. The number of murders jumped 47 percent in the same month. Not surprisingly, NYC Mayor Bill Blasio last week received a letter from 160 of the city’s business leaders telling him to make the city safe again or their employees will be “slow to return.”
As the NYC numbers were being released a similar story was being reported half way across the nation in Minneapolis. The Minneapolis City Council was being deluged by constituents “terrified” about increases in “daylight carjackings, robberies, assaults and shootings” as reported by the local public radio station. The council, in turn, grilled the city’s police chief, Medaria Arradondo, asking what the department was doing about it.
New York City and Minneapolis share the same story: New York City pulled a billion dollars from its police budget, slashed overtime, and experienced record number of police officers who retired. Just months ago the Minneapolis city council was on the verge of defunding its police and has lost 100 of its officers, which is about double the number of officers on its police force.
Both cities are experiencing higher crime rates and the accompanying public outcries. That should shock no one. It’s nuts to think that fewer police means less crime. It’s been estimated in NYC that roughly 2,000 to 3,000 fewer officers are out on the street patrolling in any given week. What did people think was going to happen? If the odds of getting caught are reduced, then more people will try their luck. It’s human nature.
Obviously, the answer isn’t to defund police departments. That doesn’t mean change isn’t required. It is. That change includes decriminalizing more victimless crimes. It means reviewing sentencing practices that keep a disproportionate number of people in prison for longer than necessary. It means changing laws that protect the police from inquiry. It means hiring social workers instead of police to handle mental health, homelessness and domestic disturbances.
The changes will take time; figuring out ways to raise the level of professionalism usually does. The result, however, would not only raise the level of public trust but it would work to improve a community’s sense of safety, writ large. It would go a long way toward addressing systemic racism.
When we fail to proceed methodically and without a stated sense of purpose, we find ourselves in indefensible positions, like in NYC and Minneapolis, cities where the outrage of being overpoliced is already being replaced by the outrage of being underpoliced. And how long did that take?
The irony is that in both instances it’s the minority communities that suffer most. The open question is whether we can summon the patience and the political courage to do the hard, thankless work that would enable us to get beyond the half measures we get when we react in the moment and with little foresight.
by Emerson Lynn