There’s a strange phenomenon is happening in the some of California’s larger cities. Even as crime has started to rise – many believe due to the tens of thousands of prisoners released under AB 109’s “prison realignment” and Propositions 47 and 57 — arrests by police departments in these cities have plummeted.
In Los Angeles, arrests dropped 25% from 2013 to 2015. Felony arrests between 2010 and 2015 plummeted 29% and misdemeanor arrests by 32%. Field interviews and citations have also declined markedly. Arrests by the LA County Sheriff’s Department and San Diego police similarly declined. Statewide, the number of arrests hit a 50-year low in 2015.
If there are a lot more criminals on loose, why are the police making fewer arrests? As LA City Councilman Mike Bonin recently told the Los Angeles Times:
“If crime was dramatically down, I wouldn’t have a problem with arrests going down. But if crime is going up, I want to see arrests going up.”
These are important questions for Anaheim because if there is some cause as to why arrests are down in these cities even while crimes rises and the number of criminals on the streets goes up, we can perhaps learn from it.
As we know, at some point soon, the Anaheim City Council will consider creating a Police Oversight Board with expanded powers, including issuing subpoenas and investigating officer-involved shootings and allegations of police misconduct. This is a pet project of a small but vocal group of activists whose attitudes toward police are far out of step with the general public’s. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say they view every officer involved shooting as a murder or an execution. They really believe police departments, including Anaheim’s, or oppressive forces staffed by racists officers who target young Latino men for gunning down.
Anaheim policymakers need to weigh several factors, not least of which is whether or not this would make the people of Anaheim safer? The drive to endow the civilian police oversight board with investigative powers is driven by the idea that police, not criminals, are the primary threat to public safety – especially in neighborhoods suffering from higher crimes rates. If enacted, these same activists, protected and supported by their council sympathizers, will in all likelihood coopt it and use it to target and hound police officers they don’t like. It will extend to Anaheim, through an official vessel, what author and scholar Heather MacDonald calls “the War on Cops.”
Thus far, the strange duality of rising crime and falling arrests hasn’t manifested itself in Anaheim according to data from the Anaheim Police Department:
Total arrests by APD
Perhaps one of the reasons we aren’t seeing the more-crime-fewer-arrests phenomenon other cities are experiencing is because Anaheim – unlike those cities – does not have an aggressively or adversarial Police Oversight Board questioning every action of police officers, after the fact and from the safety of the dais.
Increasingly, many law enforcement researchers refer to a so-called “Ferguson Effect” and the impact of radical movements like Black Lives Matter that many believe are sapping the willingness of police to vigorously, proactively enforce the law. The presence of aggressive “Oversight Boards” who give power to these anti-police movements can only increase this effect.
A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 76% of police say officers “have become less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious” and 73% are more reluctant “to use force when appropriate. 93% say they are more concerned about their safety and 84% said anti-police protest have made it harder to do their job.
We live in an era of pervasive social media where nearly every person has a video camera in their smart phone and are quick to record any law enforcement action in hopes of scoring a viral video. More and more officers reasonably conclude it is prudent to reduce their target profile by becoming more reactive and less pro-active.
Discussing rising crime on “Inside OC with Rick Reiff,” retired Anaheim Police Captain Joe Vargas said:
“Police are demoralized. That’s an absolute fact… This is dangerous for our communities especially if you have cops who are ignoring crime simply because they don’t want to expose themselves (to controversy).
“Every officer has had to become an expert police apologist, to their families, friends, relatives and neighbors. They’ve had to get really good at explaining why cops do what they do and, quite frankly, it gets wearing after a while. It’s no wonder that morale at agencies around the country is just tanking.”
While many officers are undaunted, Vargas told Reiff, others “are becoming firefighters… ‘If you call, I’ll come,’ but to expect me to get out of my car and do proactive work and expose myself to be the latest YouTube video that will be broadcast across the country with a false narrative, is just taxing to some people.”
Which brings us back to the matter of turning Anaheim ‘s civilian police oversight board into an investigative, enforcement body. Who have been the primary advocates of doing this? Anti-police activists – the same folks who believe every officer-involved shooting is a racist execution. Why are they pushing for it? Because they disagree with the verdict of official shootings; they want a different outcome – cops put it jail – and believe an amped-up civilian police oversight board is their best chance of obtaining those outcomes. They may not dominate an enhanced POB right away, but very well could over time. Board members who are bold and loud and pushy will tend to dominate the discussion. Squeaky wheels tend to get the grease.
If that dynamic takes hold, it stands the reason the firefighter mentality will begin spreading among Anaheim police officers, to the detriment of the citizenry. If Anaheim has a civilian police oversight board that is culturally sympathetic to belief the police are trigger-happy brutes who are always in the wrong, tit will contribute to officers hanging back and not sticking their necks out unless absolutely necessary. That invites more crime and disorder and makes the law-abiding less safe.
We need look only north to Los Angeles to see the impact of a police force too scared to do its job. Is that the path Anaheim wants to follow?