Imagine the following scenario: You are asleep late at night in your bedroom when you are awakened by the sound of breaking glass. Soon you hear footsteps down the hall and come to the chilling realization that intruders have entered your home. You hide in a closet and dial 911 on your phone, then in a whisper plead for the police to come to your aid before the burglars happen upon you. Officers are on the way, you are assured, and moments later you listen as the intruders, alarmed by the approaching siren, flee to a waiting car. You go outside to see them bearing the items they’ve stolen from your home, then drive off as the police car approaches. “There they go,” you shout to the officers, “you can still catch them!”
To your astonishment, the officers casually park their car and get out. “I’m afraid not,” one of them says. “Against the rules.”
“Which rules are those?” you ask incredulously.
“It’s like this,” says the officer. “The miscreants have fled in an automobile, and we have been instructed not to pursue them in our own automobile lest they crash and injure themselves or some innocent party, thus exposing our municipality to liability. And even if we were to chase and catch them, there’s a fair chance we would have to use force to get them into custody, which may, again, risk liability to our employer and which in any event these days no one wants to see.”
“Incredible,” you say.
“That’s police work in modern America,” says the officer. “No more chases, no nightsticks, no guns, no more rough stuff of any kind. But we still take reports, lots and lots of them, so let’s step inside and out of the cold night air and assemble a list of what’s been taken.”
Farfetched, you say? Not if you live in Atlanta and a growing number of other cities.
Last Friday, Atlanta police chief Erika Shields announced that her officers would not engage in vehicle pursuits while the department evaluates its policies. “Please know that I realize this will not be a popular decision,” she said, understating the case considerably. “And more disconcerting to me personally, is that this decision may drive crime up.”
I suggest “may” is not the proper auxiliary verb here. The decision will drive crime up. How could it not? When it becomes known among Atlanta’s criminal classes that all one need do to escape punishment for his misdeeds is to use a stolen car, or perhaps alter or remove the license plates on one’s own, and you’ll have a crime wave in no time.
As much as I abhor the lack of resolve reflected in Chief Shields’s decision, I cannot but acknowledge the logic of it. She called the judicial system in Atlanta “broken,” saying criminals are too often released from jail only to re-offend. “I don’t want to see us cost someone their life in pursuit of an auto theft person or burglar, when the courts aren’t even going to hold them accountable,” she said. “How can we justify that?”
In enacting her no-pursuit policy, Chief Shields is merely following the latest fashion trend in law enforcement, or perhaps more aptly, non-law enforcement. It is all the rage among those social justice warriors who have wormed their way into the criminal justice woodwork to tolerate or excuse theft, drug use, and all manner of other antisocial behavior. In California, criminal justice reforms like Proposition 47, passed in 2014, have reduced the state’s prison population at the cost of rising crime on the streets. Shoplifters are aware they face little risk of consequences if they keep the value of their stolen loot below $950. (Scenes like this one, in which shoplifters don’t even bother with a pretense of secrecy in their thievery, have become common across the state.)
In New York, new criminal justice reforms took effect on Jan. 1, among which is one that eliminates bail for many defendants. Those arrested on misdemeanors and non-violent felonies must now be released on their own recognizance rather than being held in jail or having to post bail. And the list of crimes deemed non-violent is perplexing; included are some categories of assault, robbery, and even manslaughter. Laughably, someone charged with escaping from jail is now considered worthy of an O.R. release.
Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston have elected district attorneys who can be labeled as social justice reformers, all of whom seem bent on emptying the jails. In Los Angeles, George Gascon, former D.A. of San Francisco and an author of Proposition 47, is challenging incumbent D.A. Jackie Lacey in next year’s election. If some in L.A. lament the state of their city, large swaths of which have been taken over by the “homeless,” they may find small comfort in the knowledge that things are even worse in San Francisco. Gascon hopes to change that.
One advantage of growing older is the ability to observe the swings of the pendulum with some perspective. I worked on the streets of Los Angeles through the 1980s and ’90s and saw the horrific increase in crime that was eventually stemmed through the combination of tougher laws and innovative, aggressive law enforcement. Today those gains in public safety are being eroded in the name of “social justice,” which in reality is merely the expectation that the law-abiding yield to the lawless. The pendulum will swing back someday, but how much damage will have been done before it does?
An earlier version of this article misidentified the first name of the author of Proposition 47.