Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Send More Cops

It's not surprising that the Covid-19- friendly events of the past couple of weeks have inspired several idiotic or misleading tweets. Here are two which are not atypical:

The city of Camden, NJ, 50%+ Latino and 42%black, has long been one of the poorest and crime-ridden cities in the USA. In 2012 it disbanded its police department and replaced it with the Camden County Metro Police Department.  While there was legitimate reason to do so, it also eliminated all union contracts, which resulted in incoming officers being paid poorly with fewer benefits than the previous officers had.

Moreover, it placed the municipal police department under the control of the county (hence, Camden County Metro Police Department), thus under the control of the Board of Freeholders, controlled by George Norcross, an insurance billionaire who is at worst the second most influential individual in New Jersey politics.  If Camden policing is held up as a model for the reform movement, proper context demands an explanation of the complexities of southern New Jersey politics, which unhelpfully is routinely ignored in news reports.

Several important reforms were enacted.  Community policing, including more engagement with the community, is encouraged.  Training emphasizes de-escalation and the force now has more black and Latino members.

But there is one other change, grotesquely under-emphasized, which is conveniently ignored by activists. The police force in Camden is not smaller than it once was- it is significantly larger.

This is, in the context of this summer's politics, a dirty little secret.  The larger number of police officers not only helps deter crime and allows officers to respond more promptly to reports of lawbreaking, domestic disturbances, and other emergencies which arise. It also. permits them to engage more fully with the community because their time is not monopolized by more traditional duties.

Many demonstrators, some of them black, undoubtedly have brought the coronavirus back to their families, resulting in more death.  Moreover, these protesters and others demand not only needed reforms, but fewer police officers, if any at all.  That will not only encourage more crime, particularly in poor black and Latino neighborhoods, but also make more humane police practices less viable. Irony is not dead.

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