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A Response to Fred Bealefeld & Gregg Bernstein – How Law Enforcement Gets it All Wrong

It is in the first sentence of, An open letter to Baltimore’s interim police commissioner from Fred Bealefeld and Gregg Bernstein that a huge problem with law enforcement is revealed. “Beginning in 2008, the number of homicides and shootings in Baltimore began to steadily decline, culminating with a homicide rate below 200 in 2011, which had not occurred since 1977 (nor been repeated since).” The reform in policing that I have been advocating starts with empathy, but the second principle is science. Law enforcement is dominated by ideology, not scientific rigor. Somehow, this has spilled into the culture of every facet of criminal justice, even academia. As the letter states of the strategies (which are really ideologies), “They are not complicated or novel; indeed, it is public safety 101.” They are right, it is.

This issue is why current and past leaders in command are, for the most part, wholly blind to what am I am saying and trying to advance. It is a struggle to criticize these ideas without criticizing the individuals. I am stating that policing has become blinded, not that they are blind. In the case of former commissioner, Fred Bealefeld, I like the guy, liked talking to him, he recognized my way of thinking, but, “Bad Guys with Guns” is not a crime strategy, it is simply a tagline. The plan had nothing remotely resembling a crime plan. A crime plan ties together each and every facet of the agency into a mutual goal, each having their own roles and milestones to achieve. This is at the minimum. In practice, the strategy focused on only one thing, bad guys. Who were the bad guys that police in Baltimore look for? I have already explained it, approximately 16-24 year old black males.

It is not just Baltimore that goes after this group of citizens, as they state with pride in the letter, they did not do it alone. This strategy, this thinking, this ideology was also agreed upon by all of their federal, state, and local partners. All of them seeing no problem with this and no problem with reducing victimization of humans to the cold numbers of stat chasing with Comstat, Gunstat, Policestat, and more. Something is very wrong with what we are doing. The cognitive dissonance is staggering. The further writings in the open letter, discuss engaging the community, and that it is more than just “much deeper than just locking up bad guys” (even though that was the only plan). You will see these types of statements being made all around law enforcement, we have been taught what to say and we have been taught what to do, but those things have nothing in common.

It’s easy to say, look crime went down when we did this. That is nothing more than a correlation in reference to an anecdotal event. The problem with portraying anecdotes of success as an actual plans that work, is that it is not viewed in its totality. Science and professionalism are badly missing from police strategy and criminal justice as a whole. For something to be considered a fact, it must be reproducible. For example, either this is not a sound strategy or every other police leader is a fool for not adopting it because it would reproduce the same results. Think of fighting crime like mowing the lawn and grass represents crime. The proponents of an aggressive response, develop big and strong lawn mowers to chop down the grass. They may be good at it, they may be great at it, but they only see with blinders on. They hate grass, mow down grass, and store the clippings in a bin away from the land. What they are not seeing is that their big and strong lawn mower is towing a spreader full of fertilizer and seeds. The fertilizer contains lack of opportunity, poor socioeconomic conditions, institutionalized racism, breaking down of families, hopelessness, over charging, power imbalances, corruption of justice, militarization, housing segregation, feeding of the prison complex, a war on drugs, and more. They rarely, if ever, stand back to notice that they are making the situation worse in the long term.

It is awfully coincidental that crime is never addressed with these types of methods in rural, country, suburban, or even Baltimore’s own white neighborhoods. An actual strategy to address crime would work in any neighborhood because crime is a human thing. These are not sound strategies. We need a far reaching rethinking of what policing is. Proactive policing is a term that is generally used as a justification for heavy handed police actions which have the intention of preventing crime. If police are to prevent crime, we have to have to work on killing the roots, not reinventing and improving upon ways to keep our grass cutting business going.

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1 Comment
  • Bobby (@montrealdesign) Aug 3,2015 at 5:09 pm

    Nice piece Mike .. empathy towards the community you serve & scientific methods to reduce crime are the keys.