Humor aside, I think this is an undeniable statement: for many reasons, the three most difficult occupations of US citizens are:
1. Military in a combat zone
2. Law enforcement “on the streets”
We’ve taken a fairly good beginner’s look at the military and firefighter occupations. Let’s do some serious thinking about law enforcement, in a different way than we have before. We’ve had good cop stories, and I’m glad of them. We’ve avoided bad cop stories because most of us, I think, feel that the rotten apples are not representative of American law enforcement. We have wanted to honor and encourage those brave and worthy men and women of “the thin blue line”. And I think that it is right that we do so.
But we have not, on this site, taken a “big picture look” at American law enforcement as a whole. In what I hope will be a series of articles on the different branches of law enforcement, I want to consider some “big picture” questions.
Bear in mind that law enforcement in any nation is a huge subject. We can’t really get a total picture, especially in a nation as big and diverse as the US. But if we want to have any idea what is ahead for this nation, we had better try.
“Law enforcement has not always been a formal, government-run entity in the United States. The early American form of policing was akin to that seen in England during colonial times, consisting of volunteer groups and privately funded part-time officers. Urbanization and the growth of cities resulted in the development of centralized municipal police departments; the first being created by the city of Boston in 1838. On the federal level, the United States Marshals Service existed as the sole law enforcement apparatus of the federal government until the end of the Civil War.”
(From “A History of Law Enforcement in America“.)
The Civil War changed that. Even after the Civil War, the Deep South had to be forced to move into an era of greater freedom and the beginning of civil rights for blacks. The federal government had to deal with that:
“Reconstruction brought about the creation of the Department of Justice and shortly thereafter the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The professionalization of law enforcement in America has continued over the past 100 years, resulting in numerous federal agencies and almost every local and state jurisdiction having their own law enforcement agency …” (Same source)
The various national traumas have created an ever-greater demand for more law enforcement: union wars, the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, opposition to the Vietnam War, Watergate, drugs:
“Today, there are currently more than 18,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. These agencies employ over 420,000 law enforcement officers tasked with protecting public safety in our communities. Each year, law enforcement conducts over 10 million arrests, resulting in more than 600,000 admissions to state or federal prisons. These activities cost taxpayers over $126 billion each year for federal, state, and local police protection.” (Same source)
Are things better now? After all, after the 1990s, America did begin to experience a long decline in crime. But it didn’t last:
“Violent crimes increased nationally last year by 4.1 percent and homicides rose by 8.6 percent, one year after violence increased by 3.9 percent and homicides jumped by 10.8 percent … While crime over all and violent crime remain well below their levels of the 1980s and 1990s, last year was the first time violent crime increased in consecutive years since 2005 and 2006, according to the F.B.I. data, which is collected from local police departments around the nation and released annually … ‘This is ominous’, said Mark Kleiman, a criminologist at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management … ‘A 20 percent increase in homicides over the past two years is not trivial.’ ”
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, a total of 10,554,985 arrests were made in the US in 2017. Roughly 4,270,000 were “minor”, non-violent crimes.
Ferguson riots. Baltimore – “Give them space to destroy.” The Knockout Game. Murdered police officers.
Per Governing States and Localities, police officers per 10,000 population varies wildly from a high of 70.9 to a low of 14.3.
Per 10,000 people!
(Those stats are from cities of 25,000 population and up. Rural jurisdictions may have better figures on average.)
The police are highly unlikely to be able to protect you in the event you are targeted for a violent crime. In many cases, they’re physically not able to cover the distance and locate you until long after the crime has taken place. This is not the fault of law enforcement. It’s just basic geography.
And there are important and scary changes taking place in American law enforcement.
“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in general purpose police agencies — local PDs, sheriff’s offices, and state police — there were 701,000 full-time sworn officers in 2016 — down from 724,000 officers in 2013. That’s a rate of 217 full-time police per 100,000 residents in 2016, down from 229 per 100k in 2013. That is the lowest its been since the BJS began tracking them in 1990 …”
“… officers in ‘special police agencies’ and federal law enforcement … accounted for almost one fifth (19%) of law enforcement officers in 2008 (a share that was gradually increasing), but they haven’t been officially counted in the last decade.”
“Federal law enforcement is often overlooked in discussions about cops because we generally don’t see or interact with federal agents. The feds seem to have a remote connection to the kinds of daily, local crimes that concern ordinary citizens. But however opaque its operations, and however imperceptible its effects on ordinary crime, it’s an increasingly large chunk of US law enforcement resources … Unfortunately, the BJS hasn’t updated its data on the number of federal law enforcement officers (FLEOs) since 2008 …”
So the number of LEOs whose actions citizens are most likely to be able to influence, who are most likely to have some connection to us as human beings, is decreasing, and has been since 1990.
“Hastily passed 45 days after 9/11 in the name of national security, the Patriot Act was the first of many changes to surveillance laws that made it easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track the activity of innocent Americans on the Internet. While most Americans think it was created to catch terrorists, the Patriot Act actually turns regular citizens into suspects.”
At the same time, the federal government has been building up its law enforcement power, and hiding its growth. Is this the origin and aim of that trend…
“We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” That was from the man who promised to “fundamentally change” America.
And then there’s The Monster: the single federal agency whose ammunition purchases resulted in a nation-wide five-year ammunition shortage of every cartridge being commercially sold in the entire United States: the Department of Homeland Security:
“The Homeland Security Department wants to buy more than 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the next four or five years. It says it needs them — roughly the equivalent of five bullets for every person in the United States — for law enforcement agents in training and on duty.”
The ammo needs of ICE were included in that purchase:
“ICE’s ammunition requests in the last year included:
–450 million rounds of .40-caliber duty ammunition
–40 million rounds of rifle ammunition a year for as many as five years, for a total bullet-buy of 200 million rounds
–176,000 rifle rounds on a separate contract”
My conclusion is that local law enforcement is declining in numbers because of a virulent anti-police mood which was ignited and inflamed by “President” Barack Obama. These, the local officers, are by and large “the good guys”.
At the same time, in my opinion, there is a rapidly growing divergence between local law enforcement and federal “law enforcement”. The federals seem, repeat in my opinion, to be being groomed to become the American equivalent of the Nazi SS. I hope I’m wrong.
And we haven’t even discussed the laughably named, extremely controversial “Transportation Security Administration”. If any American law enforcement agency deserves the name of rogue, these people do. I heard about their beginning from a co-worker who quit her airport security job because she was not twisted and un-American, and she refused to do the evil things that TSA does. They deserve an article all to themselves. At a later date.