By Howard Safir
July 15, 2015
IDEAS
Howard Safir is the former commissioner of the New York City Police Department (1996-2000) and Chairman and CEO of Vigilant Resources International (VRI).

In Baltimore this year there have been more than 160 homicides, about a 50% increase compared to the first half of last year, and shootings and robberies have also gone up. Similar increases are taking place in Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, New Orleans and New York City. The image of police and trust in officers are under continual attack.

Our elected officials are touting the buzzword “community policing” as the panacea that will solve the problem of crime in America. They are dead wrong. The Community Oriented Policing Services office of the Department of Justice defines community policing as a “philosophy that promotes organizational strategies that support the systematic use of partnerships and problem solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.”

The words are impressive, and I support the concept. “Feel-good policing” will indeed build trust and make the law-abiding citizens of our community feel better about our police. But it has not and will not reduce violence. The social causes of crime should be addressed, and in the long term, this hopefully will have an effect on crime reduction.

To reduce crime, there is one key element that is missing from the community policing philosophy: using assertive policing tactics to ensure that the one group that causes violence, the criminals, believe that there are consequences, including the certainty of arrest, for engaging in criminal activity. Community policing and what I call “goal-oriented community policing” must exist side by side.

Criminals and gangs may or may not be the result of society’s ills. But the first and foremost responsibility of police is to keep our citizens safe. Those who believe that crime will be reduced merely by having the same officer on a beat so that the community knows his or her name, or think that a 21-year-old officer in the midst of a crime-ridden city can solve their problems are woefully naive.

In the last 20 years, assertive policing has reduced crime to historic lows. This has been accomplished through the use of tactics that target criminals, a large police presence, and intelligence-led policing that uses technology to tell police who the criminals are. This enables police to both respond to and prevent crimes.

Unfortunately, the anti-police politicians, some at the highest levels of our government, along with the usual anti-police activists have changed the conversation from focusing on those who commit serious crime to those who prevent it. The few instances of police misconduct or misjudgment have been blown out of proportion to give the impression that they are the norm rather then the exception. This could not be further from the truth.

We are at a tipping point in this country. We can continue to demoralize our police officers with rhetoric and legislation that makes them the focus rather the criminals whom they have taken an oath to arrest. We can reject the successful tactics, such as stop, question, and frisk, which when used properly and legally has taken thousands of guns off our streets and prevented thousands of crimes. If we continue on this path, we will surely see a continued rise in violence, and our officers will stand on the sidelines being reactive rather then proactive.

Through the use of goal-oriented community policing, we can regain the trust of those communities that view the police negatively. We should address the minority makeup of our police to reflect the communities they serve. We should aggressively prosecute those few police officers who are involved in misconduct. We should encourage body cameras to protect both the public and police officers. We should get to know our communities, and they should get to know us.

But we should not forget what got us to the lowest crime in decades. It is the dedication and sacrifice of many police officers and assertive tactics that ensure that criminals are the one group that fear and respect police.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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