The so-called war on police that has persisted in the United States for months — in the form of protests against police brutality and killings of unarmed citizens — could bring back the high-crime, murderous era of the 1990s, says Howard Safir, the former New York City police commissioner and current president of a law enforcement consulting agency.
Safir said the recent uptick in homicides around the country, particularly in Baltimore, which saw its deadliest May in more than 40 years, was proof that anti-police rhetoric by civil rights leaders and politicians has eroded the nation’s celebrated record-low crime rates, according to an op-ed he penned for Time magazine on Friday. “In spite of the fact that use-of-force complaints, and civilian complaints of all kinds, have been down, it appears that the [Department of Justice] under former Attorney General Eric Holder was on a mission to reform policing in the United States,” wrote Safir, who was NYPD commissioner from 1996 to 2000 and oversaw the department when several officers were accused of beating and sodomizing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
Safir acknowledged that a “very small number” of police officers routinely engage in brutality while out on the job. But he said the DOJ’s ongoing investigations and monitoring of police forces in more than 30 cities has caused officers to do their jobs less aggressively, out of fear that their livelihoods and families are at risk. “We are beginning to see the results of those dynamics today,” Safir wrote.
It’s a dynamic that Safir said the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, can fix. Lynch, who as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, was a part of the team that prosecuted the Louima case. Last month, Lynch announced that the DOJ would launch a patterns and practice probe of the Baltimore Police Department, following the officer-involved death of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old suffered a fatal spinal injury during his arrest in April, sparking police brutality protests, looting and arson across the city.
The six officers involved in Gray’s death have been indicted on charges that range from murder to official misconduct. But Safir said a DOJ investigation and the court-ordered reforms that may result are not going to fix Baltimore’s police force.
“Oakland, California, has had a court-appointed monitor for more than 12 years, and yet violence is at all-time highs, and complaints from citizens continue to come in,” Safir wrote. Homicides in New York City and Chicago have risen 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively, compared to this time last year, he added.
The problem, Safir said, is the way police forces are monitored by federal authorities and not the departments’ cooperation. He said the monitors — usually outside firms that review training and collect statistics on the departments — are not motivated to see the police department reforms because they can continue to collect fees as long as police forces are not in compliance.
“It’s essential that this system be changed to include goals and milestones, not only for the police, but also for the monitors,” Safir wrote. “I urge our new attorney general to consider such a change.”