Gentle readers, earlier this year, on the occasion of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s announcement of his pending retirement, I wrote a column here on PJ Media in which I described the three main subspecies of American police officers: Real Cops, Slugs, and Climbers. To recap, the Real Cops are those who do most of the police work in their departments, while the Slugs and the Climbers are those who avoid it. In avoiding the work, Slugs and Climbers do it with equal assiduity but for different reasons. The former are merely lazy, while the latter realize that along with the grit and tumult of police work comes the risk of a controversial incident that may stall or prevent altogether their advancement through the ranks.
We revisit this topic today because a shining specimen of Climber has recently been spotted in America’s heartland, specifically Wichita, Kansas. On Monday, the Wichita Eagle ran a story on police use of force, and in that story Gordon Ramsay, chief of the Wichita Police Department (not the celebrity chef), offered some insights that surely had eyes rolling among the Real Cops of his department.
“Police more likely to use force against black Wichitans,” said the headline. “Chief looks for fixes.” And the story, by Eagle writer Nichole Manna, was blunt from the outset. “Black residents,” it began, “find themselves at the receiving end of force by Wichita police at a rate higher than any other race.” Manna went on to “analyze” data on police contacts in which people were subjected to various levels of force. Anyone familiar with this theme as presented in the press for the last several years already knows that Manna came to the ominous conclusion that, because the use-of-force statistics in Wichita do not mirror the city’s demographics, something must be amiss.
Fine. We expect a certain level of willful ignorance from reporters, and a display of such inspires only mild annoyance. And the same goes for politicians like Wichita city council member Brandon Johnson, a man described in the article as having “earned a reputation as a social justice activist and an advocate for better community/police relations.” Manna quotes Johnson as citing the standard litany of perceived racial disparities in sentencing, all of which have been thoroughly refuted. (See Heather Mac Donald’s 2015 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee for an summary of this refutation.)
But when this ignorance is shared by a police chief, a man in possession of the facts, it is cause for consternation, especially among those he purports to lead. “All those [criminal justice statistics] are off the chart,” Ramsay said. “What happens in law enforcement and what you see across the country is that we’re often the flashpoint for all these issues at once, for all these disparities that are not getting the attention they should. . . . I’ve taken the stance that police should be leaders in not only trying to reduce and resolve the disparities in our system but in all systems.”
Ramsay’s biography on the Wichita P.D. website informs us that, prior to being appointed to his current post, he was chief of police in Duluth, Minn., a position he achieved at age 34. This is your clue that in Ramsay we are dealing with a Climber of the first order. To be appointed chief after no more than 13 years of police work required studious avoidance of controversy coupled with a proficiency in the kind of political doublespeak reflected in these quotes.
Chief Ramsay spoke of his gratitude that the use-of-force statistics were posted to Wichita’s website, where you can explore the numbers for yourself. What you won’t find on that website, and what went unmentioned by Chief Ramsay, is the racial breakdown of criminal offenders in the city, information surely known to every cop working Wichita’s streets but which the chief cannot bring himself to push past his lips. And while the precise data may be beyond our grasp, an approximation can be found via a little bit of Internet sleuthing.
The real estate website Trulia.com tracks crime data for cities across the country, and their crime map for Wichita shows the parts of town where crimes occur most frequently. Taking that information and cross-referencing it with data on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, we can see that the most crime-plagued area of Wichita is within the 67214 zip code, which, perhaps coincidentally, is also home to the city’s highest concentration of blacks. (The population of Wichita as a whole is 11 percent black; the 67214 zip code is 48 percent black.)
Take careful note that I am not making a statement about any ethnic group’s or any individual’s propensity for crime. Every cop knows that even in the most dangerous neighborhoods, the great majority of residents are decent and law-abiding. That said, no police officer, least of all a police chief, should pretend to be ignorant of where crime occurs most frequently in his city and of which criminal suspects are more likely than others to resist arrest and bring about a use of force. The fact that Chief Ramsay can go on and on about racial disparities in the justice system without mentioning this unpleasant but persistent reality is an embarrassment. Worse, it is an insult to the Real Cops of his department who work to make the city safer while their chief gives tacit endorsement to accusations that they’re racists.
Chief Ramsay’s Facebook page indicates he was going “out on the street” on the night of April 13. One can’t help but wonder if he talked with any Real Cops while he was out there. He should do so more often; he might learn a few things.