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3 conversations police must have with their communities about crime

As many of our neighbors grapple with high crime and an increased sense their safety is at risk, we must dig in and have some uncomfortable discussions

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It’s time we have an honest conversation with our communities about rising crime and, as my favorite law enforcer Sheriff Buford T. Justice said, “What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”

As many of our neighbors grapple with high crime and an increased sense their safety is at risk, we must dig in and have some uncomfortable discussions.

I have had a front-row seat to the aftermath of our latest revolution around the hamster wheel. What I mean by the hamster wheel is our history of a racially charged event leading to riots and civil unrest, which leads to a reduction in proactive policing and opening the doors of the jail indiscriminately, which leads to increased crime, which leads to over-the-top policing to get crime back in check, which leads to some racially charged events, thus the hamster wheel keeps turning.

My hope is to get off the hamster wheel once and for all. I know this won’t be easy, but I believe honest conversations followed by actions on all of our parts, can stop the wheel from turning.

Below are some suggested discussions LE agencies should have with their communities:

1. Budgets

I was in the command post on June 7, 2020, amid a full National Guard and state police law enforcement deployment responding to the riots and civil unrest that took place following the murder of George Floyd, when the Minneapolis City Council went to a local park and called for defunding the police in front of a big sign that read as such.

Defunding the police may be a catchy campaign slogan, but doing so is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worse.

Over the years we have cut funding to social programs and given a small portion of the savings to law enforcement agencies. For instance, a city cuts four social workers and gives the police department one police officer along with all the responsibilities of the four social workers.

Chief law enforcement officers are not always forthcoming with our neighbors regarding the effects of cutting social programs in favor of providing resources to the police department. The result of doing this has led to our profession being tasked with responsibilities it was never intended to take on. Our neighbors expect Rolls Royce quality public safety, but just like the vehicle, it costs what it costs. There is no discount!

We have been claiming to have Rolls Royce quality public safety on a cheap domestic car budget. Robbing Peter to pay Paul has been disastrous. Just look at the jurisdictions where they significantly cut police budgets and shifted costs to other public safety initiatives. Most of these jurisdictions are experiencing record-high violent crime rates.

On the flip side, high incarceration and recidivism rates are normally present in jurisdictions in which social services are significantly cut to fund law enforcement. No one likes higher taxes, not even me, but to get off the hamster wheel we need to fully fund the type of public safety system that meets the expectations of all our neighbors.

Both, And

A point I always make when speaking with my neighbors is that the police do not prevent crime, we deter it. Since the murder of George Floyd, many departments went into firefighter mode (only responding when called as opposed to conducting proactive policing). When cops do this, the deterrent factor is reduced and crime goes up.

You can look at individual jurisdictions that have had similar critical incidents over the years, and you will see an increase in violent crime, specifically homicides. For instance, in 2013, the year before Michael Brown was involved in a deadly force encounter in Ferguson, there were 120 murders. In every year since (2015 and forward), there have been at least 186 murders. You will find this trend in other jurisdictions where murders do not return to pre-incident levels despite unemployment and job vacancy rates at or over historic lows during this time frame.

We have always tried to combat high crime rates with tougher jail sentences and more police, and this often temporarily works. During this revolution point in the hamster wheel rotation, we typically tell people if they get out of line they will get hit with a long trip to the big house. We rarely try to instill basic values such as respect throughout our neighborhoods. I am not talking about flashy signs posted on a wall; I am talking about teaching our kids and educating and re-educating our adult neighbors on what respect means. I believe if we as a society emphasize what respect means and make it the minimum standard in our neighborhoods, we can get off the hamster wheel. The “And” part is this would have to be done by our schools, activists, elected officials, parents, guardians, judges, prosecutors – everyone! The “And” is all all hands on deck, not just law enforcement.

Law enforcement culture

We need to ask neighbors for help in creating a healthy culture within our agencies. If we are honest with our neighbors, we would tell them law enforcement culture, in general, is very toxic. We literally destroy our own. If you don’t fit in, you are picked on and if you are different and choose not to assimilate into the culture you are targeted and treated as an outcast.

We promote people multiple levels above their competence because they are one of the “in-crowd.” Even worse, we allow these over-promoted folks to continue in their roles when everything in the organization goes to crap, again because they are one of the “in-crowd.”

Unfortunately, most of our officers are mentally spent before they even hit the street because of what happens in the roll call room. We need our neighbors to pay more attention when the leadership of their organizations is being selected.

Most of the focus on issues surrounding policing has been on front-line officers and unions but seldom on leadership. We have allowed chief LEOs to stand in front of a microphone and say their agency is messed up and blame whoever for the disfunction, all the while allowing them to abnegate their responsibility of being the one actually in charge.

We need our neighbors to help us select leaders who are better than repeating whatever the current buzz words are: 21st century policing, reform, reimaging, community policing, you fill in the blank. We need the community’s help in selecting leaders who have a history and or a deep admiration for creating and reinforcing a culture that fosters a healthy workplace, promotes integration as opposed to assimilation, and true officer wellness, not just a check the box feel-good, do-nothing wellness program. If officers are healthy and well they will treat our neighbors with respect and thus help lower crime.

The past two years have been exhausting and societally destructive. For the sake of us and our neighbors, let’s have these conversations so we can get off the hamster wheel once and for all. Now is the time to lean in and lead. Just because someone is loud and screams into a microphone doesn’t make them right, so we need not be intimidated by these people and then we can begin to have honest conversations.

NEXT: 4 ways officers can improve neighborhood relationships

Bloomington Police Department Chief Booker Hodges has worked as a school resource officer, patrol deputy, narcotics detective, SWAT operator, patrol overnight watch commander, inspector, undersheriff, acting chief deputy, an assistant public safety commissioner and now chief of police.

Prior to joining the Bloomington Police Department in April of 2022, he served with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Lake Police Department and the Ramsey and Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. He has led agencies ranging from 40 to 1,500 staff members.