Several recent events have police across the country once again talking about how anti-police protesters, politicians, and mainstream press are negatively affecting policies and procedures relating to the justified use of deadly force and the practice of proactive policing in America.
Last week, we reported that a former Missouri lawmaker—who is also a retired police officer—blasted presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren for a Tweet claiming that Michael Brown was "murdered" in Ferguson five years ago.
Earlier this week, we reported that California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 392, creating what some have described as one of the toughest standards in the nation for when law enforcement officers can use deadly force.
Also this week, we reported that NYPD Police Commissioner James O'Neill fired Daniel Pantaleo—the New York City police officer accused in the 2014 death of Eric Garner—despite the fact that Pantaleo was cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident.
Let's unpack the possible consequences from these news events—namely, the continuing trends of de-policing and deadly hesitation in America.
On the five-year anniversary of the Ferguson officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of a man who attacked a police officer, attempted to disarm him, and then charged at him, presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren sent out a Tweet that said, "5 years ago Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael was unarmed yet he was shot 6 times. I stand with activists and organizers who continue the fight for justice for Michael. We must confront systemic racism and police violence head on."
Michael Brown was not murdered. His death was the result of legally justified police use of deadly force by an officer who reasonably believed he was in physical peril.
Still, the false narrative that Brown was "murdered" was driven by an anti-police mainstream media that financially benefitted from spikes in television ratings and online traffic from anti-police public. It was driven by anti-police politicians who sought to pander to the anti-police protesters who stuff the ballot boxes.
The fact that five years hence—despite clear wording in the final report exonerating Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting—these individuals keep pressing this false narrative effectively ensures that the Ferguson Effect will only worsen.
Police officers look at events like Ferguson and think to themselves, "I'm not going to put myself in a position to lose my job or my life over something I did on the street that's legally justified and within agency policy."
The citizens in neighborhoods where proactive policing has been all but discontinued suffer with increasing crime committed by emboldened criminals.
The firing of Daniel Pantaleo may also lead to the spread of de-policing to the nation's largest police force.
In making the announcement of Pantaleo's firing, Commissioner O'Neill said that it was "an extremely difficult decision" but that following the public outcry over Garner's death—and the additional public disappointment in the U.S. Department of Justice's decision to not bring civil rights charges against him—that Pantaleo "can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer."
Following Pantaleo's firing, Patrick Lynch—the longtime president of the Police Benevolent Association—sent a strongly worded message to the agency's rank and file officers that could easily be construed as a signal of a work slowdown.
"We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed 'reckless' just for doing their job" Lynch said.
"We will uphold our oath, but we cannot and will not do so by needlessly jeopardizing our careers or personal safety," he added.
I very well could be wrong, but that sounds an awful lot like code for an order to stand down—or at least slow down—from proactive policing.
If officers further discontinue proactive policing activities in New York City that wonderful place could return to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s when crime was rampant.
When Rudy Guiliani was elected mayor and strongly supported the practice of proactive policing—with officers utilizing the "broken windows" approach to patrol, aggressively cracking down on even the most minor of offenses—homicide dropped 73 percent, burglary 66 percent, assault 40 percent, robbery 67 percent, and vehicle thefts 73 percent during the 1990s (source: National Bureau of Economic Research).
When police lawfully do their jobs and arrest those committing crimes, the community prospers.
When police retreat and let the criminals rule the streets, innocent law-abiding citizens suffer.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law legislation that—on paper and in theory—will require law enforcement officers use deadly force only when "necessary" instead of the current standard of when it is "objectively reasonable," according to the Supreme Court.
The mainstream media's coverage of the reaction from the law's proponents—such as the ACLU and other anti-police groups like Antifa and BLM—would lead the public to conclude that the longstanding Supreme Court standard to evaluate the legality of fatal uses-of-force was replaced with a new standard.
By the letter of the law, it does not.
The law states that an officer can use deadly force "only when the officer reasonably believes—based on the totality of the circumstances—that such force is necessary for either of the following reasons:
- To defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person
- To apprehend a fleeing person for any felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury, if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless immediately apprehended
The law states that any officer who has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a public offense "may use objectively reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance."
That looks passable on paper, but in the real world of anti-police sentiment and increasing police timidity, the effect of this legislation may be that officers further hesitate to use deadly force even in situations where deadly force is not only legally justified, but is the only reasonable action to keep an officer or another person from suffering serious bodily harm or even death.
Under the new California law, prosecutors can now bring into question the actions of both the officers and offenders leading up to a deadly encounter to determine whether an officer acted within the scope of law, agency policy, and training.
Using a sports analogy, this is akin to judging a football player's performance based on his performance on fourth down as opposed to his performance on first down and ten.
Are the four downs related? Absolutely—but there's massive difference between first and ten and fourth and inches.
Circumstances change—and in policing, circumstances change quickly. In policing, first down and fourth down might look completely different.
Furthermore, in a rapidly unfolding, high-stress, potentially deadly police encounter, the maximum amount of time on the "play clock" could be milliseconds.
Too many officers are afraid of becoming the lead story on the five o'clock news, or the next viral video on social media, or stuck in an internal investigation because of something they did on duty.
Failing to take action—when action is the only thing that will keep you unharmed or alive—because you fear the aftermath of an incident more than the incident itself is deadly hesitation.
This plague is getting worse and more widespread.
Unfortunately, in today's anti-police climate, there may be no way out of this downward spiral until crime gets so bad that city streets begin to look like the studio set of a Mad Max movie. Perhaps when anarchy truly sets in, the people, the press, and the politicians who have handcuffed their police will change their tune. Perhaps not...
Only time will tell.