‘Broken windows’ breaks relationships

Published 10:25 pm Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Police brutality” is a hot topic in day’s news. It should be clear that policing efforts to reduce crime have resulted in alienating many citizens.

Even when police activities appear correct to those well informed on legal, policing procedures, many claim the officers are wrong. Even when juries find police officers innocent of crimes, many citizens continue to advocate they committed crimes.

A number of urban riots, burned down businesses, and deaths have occurred as a result of this conflicted situation.

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As is often the case with hot topics in the news, the root causes of social problems aren’t often considered or investigated. “Brutality” isn’t what alienates officers from citizens. What is portrayed as brutality in the news only sparks inflamed feelings that already exist.

My background regarding crime and policing is varied. I have never been a sworn police officer, but I have experience and training and have powers of arrest. I have worn a uniform and badge and carried a gun at work. I am still certified by Virginia to do this type of work.

I also lived in South Central Los Angeles for several years, and, because I reach out to people, I have discussions with people who live in similar areas of Hampton Roads. There are similarities between what I observed in South Central and the views of people here.

It is my view that police/citizen alienation is a result of the daily policing actions officers are trained and ordered to carry out.

What are the normal policing policies and actions that result in the hostility voiced by many citizens? For several decades some scholars and politicians have promoted a policing policy based on the “broken window” theory.

The theory involves police focusing on arresting and ticketing people for as many small “crimes” as possible. The thinking is that doing so will create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, preventing more serious crimes.

There are two problems with the theory. First, the continual presence of police officers is not necessary in low-crime areas, indicating policing isn’t what creates low crime. If we really want to create low crime in high-crime areas, we have to study the factors causing low crime in other areas and make changes based on the resulting findings.

Second, a large percentage of law-abiding people I knew in South Central continually complained about being picked on by police. The same feeling is expressed by people living in high-crime areas in Hampton Roads.

But what really upsets people is the fact that some officers, often with the encouragement of politicians, overstep their legal bounds and violate citizens’ civil rights.

Law-enforcement in America cannot be effective without the support of local citizens. Clearly some changes need to be made to address government’s alienation from law-abiding citizens.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.