William J. Bratton, who has served as the top cop for America’s largest cities, including New York City (twice), Los Angeles, and Boston, speaking in a Podcast recorded with me earlier this week for broadcast next week, warned that law enforcement in America is in the greatest crisis it has faced in a half-century. Bratton, who achieved impressive results in our largest cities by reducing crime while improving the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they police, is clearly worried. Bratton is retired from active police work and is now an international consultant on risk and security issues. He doesn’t mince words when addressing the problems law enforcement faces today. When there is a schism between agencies that society expects to enforce the law and those that are there to prosecute lawbreakers, we have a crisis. And that seems to be where we are today, Bratton says.
What Bratton says makes sense. When forces on the left collide with those on the right, it is the society that suffers. When things turn violent, the police, who are responsible for keeping the peace, are invariably caught in the middle. This is particularly true in communities where prosecutors all but advertise a dollar value of theft, under which they will not prosecute. Why would police put themselves at risk pursuing burglars, shoplifters, carjackers, or transit scofflaws who they know will not face justice if apprehended?
About 800,000 men and women chose law enforcement as a career a decade or two ago. Law enforcement was a respected and responsible career field, and police officers were generally appreciated by the communities they served. Now, law enforcement employs at least 100,000 fewer men and women. As recruiting becomes harder, many communities have had little choice but to lower recruitment standards. To make a bad situation worse, far fewer qualified men and women want to pursue careers in law enforcement today. A growing and diverse population served by fewer law enforcement officers to keep the peace isn’t good. Indeed, it is very bad.
Bratton, who raised educational requirements for those who wanted to pursue careers in police work, and instituted recruitment policies to assure that police officers better reflected the communities they served, is not happy with law enforcement policies being pursued today in many cities throughout the country. New York City enjoyed twenty-five straight years of decreasing crime rates in the years following Bratton’s arrival there. He is widely and justly credited with the dramatic decline in crime following his arrival as New York City’s top cop. In Los Angeles, he was largely credited with a dramatic reduction in crime.
New York City, largely due to reforms instituted by Bratton, is widely regarded as the best-staffed and equipped police force in the nation. Indeed, the city is internationally recognized as having one of the best police departments in the world. If Los Angeles had the same ratio of police to the population as New York, the City of Angels would have 18,000 police personnel protecting the city, Bratton says. Instead, the city employs just 9,000 men and women to keep the peace in the sprawling city. Regardless of the size or the quality of any city’s police force, law enforcement is, sadly, going to be seriously compromised, Bratton says, when prosecutors don’t prosecute those who break the law.
Crime statistics bear out what Bratton says. Christopher Herrmann, who teaches criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the stats for 2022 in New York City demonstrate that crime was up and that “it was up quite a bit last year in the City.” Last year retail theft, burglaries, grand larceny, and transit safety drove a 22 percent increase in major crime in New York City. Shoplifting in New York City last year soared 81% over the prior year, again demonstrating how much crime goes up when enforcement goes down.
It is almost as though the city is advertising what crimes a criminal can and cannot get away with. Murder and shooting; are definitely bad enough to prosecute, so there is no overall increase in those crimes in New York, although there was an alarming increase in the number of children getting shot, primarily by other children.
Spiking crime in this era of low enforcement is not confined to New York City. Reduced enforcement will result in increased crime anywhere. In Chicago, 20,000 more cars were stolen in 2022 than were stolen the year before. Yes, you read that right. Crime rose by double digits last year in Los Angeles as well.
Sadly, misguided political priorities that are often more sensitive to protecting criminal defendants than to the victims upon whom criminals prey are having a devasting impact in many cities. In cities that are reluctant to prosecute crime and criminal behavior, crime and criminal behavior will increase. It’s not rocket science.
Bratton, frustratingly, notes that when politicians ignore the simple right of citizens to feel safe in their homes or streets, we will experience a breakdown in the criminal justice system.
Crime in New York City hasn’t reached the peak periods of lawlessness that characterized the 1980s and 1990s before Bratton arrived, but the current trend is troubling. Crime in the city is at a five-year high, and that’s a trend that is unfolding in many large cities. That’s a reversal that should concern us all.
Please consider our Of Thee I Sing 1776 Premium option: For just $5/month, you’ll also receive my new weekly Podcasts featuring my conversation each week with an important and interesting guest. My podcasts have featured my discussions with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Former Senator Joe Lieberman, former Senator Barbara Boxer, Ryan Clancy, Chief Strategist of No Labels, AI Data Scientist Lawrence Kite, Outlander author Diana Gabaldon, Jazz artist Ann Hampton Callaway, and Katherine Gehl, co-author of The Politics Industry and founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, with more to follow each week. And you will automatically receive the 2022 Edition of my ebook, “Essays for our Time.” Join me in dissecting the day’s top news and other topics with a premium subscription to Of Thee I Sing 1776. Just click on this link to become a Premium subscriber: https://oftheeising1776.substack.com/subscribe .
All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.
Invite friends, family, and colleagues to receive “Of Thee I Sing 1776” online commentaries. Simply copy, paste, and email them this link— www.oftheeising1776.substack.com/subscribe –and they can begin receiving these weekly essays every Sunday morning.