As I type this, I’m sitting in a tent my son and I set up in the backyard under the shade of a towering maple. My 8-year-old son is lying on the other side of the tent watching something on the tablet. It’s quiet in the neighborhood today. Quiet and peaceful. And we can continue our leisurely activity relatively free from fear. We don’t worry much that some gang is going to wander into our backyard, take the computer and tablet, and harm us physically. Later today, him and I are going to a local park where he will play in the splash pad while I sit at a picnic table and read. Again, this will likely be a quiet and peaceful event.
Why is that?
Well, in part, its because we live in a quiet and peaceful neighborhood. Another part is that I can proceed with my life, confident that I and my family live in a nation of laws and those laws are dutifully enforce by a police force.
That’s right, the police. The good guys with guns. I am confident that if the tranquility of the life I lead were to be broken by evil-doers, I could call the police and they would respond to assist in the protection of my family and property or at the very least help us in making things right again after the fact.
So, what makes us comfortable with this umbrella of police protection. It seems to me that we view the police in this country as the legitimate body to help us in scenarios where our persons, our families, and our property have been harmed in a way that violates the law. This legitimacy comes from the fact that they are sanctioned, managed, and funded by elected officials who get their legitimacy from the citizens themselves.
So, let’s break this down to make it easier to understand. I (a citizen) empower elected officials by virtue of my vote, elected officials then empower police departments to act in situations where someone wrongs me. Thus, my confidence that the police are the right people to call is validated because, ultimately, their authority came from me and my fellow citizens.
There are several ways this can break down. The leaders that I elect can a) fail to find the correct people to do the policing, b) fail to empower said police force to act in appropriate and necessary ways, or c) empower said police force in ways that we (the citizens) did not intend or want.
Unfortunately, as I look upon the American news cycle of the last few months, I see these breakdowns occurring in numerous places. Perhaps the best example of it, though, is America’s largest and best known city, New York City.
Reports are coming out that officers of the New York Police Department are retiring at a rate so fast that the administrative wing of the department can’t process the paperwork fast enough. For the week of June 29-July 6 the NYPD has seen a 411% increase in retirement filings over the same time last year. This increase comes at a time when the administrative division of the force is suffering from a lack of workers to process the paperwork and the cancellation of overtime for what workers they do have. The response to this deluge has been to limit the number of retirement applications they can receive per day.
There are many reasons for the increase in retirement applications. A recent spike in violent activity, an increase in anti-cop sentiment by the public, drastic budget cuts for the department, and a lack of support from political leadership.
Many of these reasons fall under item “b” from the list above about ways police legitimacy can break down. That is, police in New York City are not being empowered to act in appropriate and necessary ways in difficult situations.
In New York, this is taking two prominent forms. First, the city has recently cut a huge amount from the Police Budget. One of the ways cities empower police departments is to offer pay that makes it worthwhile to do such a difficult job. Additionally, properly equipping their officers is another method of empowerment that requires money. These budget cuts will have a deleterious effect is both of these areas. Already the departments plain clothes division has been cut and overtime pay has been scrapped One unnamed officer is quoted as saying, “When they cut OT, a lot of people were done.”
Perhaps an even bigger blow to the NYPD is the lack of moral support they have received from the city leadership. First, while the budget cuts were indeed harmful, the fact that city leaders thought to do it to begin with must have been a slap in the face. Additionally, the city administration of Bill de Blasio has not been friendly with the police force of the city since his arrival in the office. Earlier this year, the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association of the NYPD Tweeted out to the Mayor that the officers of the force do not respect him and do not want him to visit injured officers in the hospital. The Tweet went on to assert that the mayor had sold the department out to the 1% who hate police for his own political benefit. One unnamed officer said, “Why would you want to stay on this job when people don’t appreciate what you do?” While the President of the Captains Endowment Association issued a warning to officers that the city leadership will not have their back if they ever find themselves in a situation of having to make a tough call. “They do not have your back and will use you as a political pawn.”
These breakdowns in the political leadership of police departments are not limited to New York City. Other big cities such as Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle are all experiencing similar issues, including mass retirement or resignation of officers.
I’m sitting and writing this in a small suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Just yesterday the Grand Rapids city counsel debated cutting backing the Police budget to the minimum allowed by the city charter. The police chief said this would result in laying off 70 officers from the force.
I recognize that not everyone can relax in a tent in their backyard with their son the way I am. Some neighborhoods aren’t as safe. Some Police officers fail to live up to the standard we set for them. But the majority of America’s 300 million+ people are able to live quiet and peaceful lives if they choose to. This is in no small part thanks to the excellent policing in this country. They have difficulty jobs and deserve both our financial and moral support.