Recent data has shown that while crime has been steadily increasing, puzzlingly, the number of arrests being made has decreased nationwide. From 2013 to 2015, the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) arrest rate dropped by 25 percent, resulting in the lowest number of arrests in nearly 50 years. This raises two concerning questions: What could be the reason for this, and who’s to blame?
In recent years, police have been severely criticized due to incidents of police brutality that have become highly scandalized through extensive media coverage. For instance, the murders of Eric Garner, a man who was strangled to death by a police officer on July 17, 2014; Mark Duggan, a man who was shot on August 4, 2011 by the police after being wrongfully accused of planning an attack; Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old teenager who was shot by a police officer on August 9, 2014 along with others, have left countless citizens enraged with the criminal justice system.
Based on these incidents, it is notable to point out that the victims of police brutality have mainly been African-Americans, which has led to the formation of Black Lives Matter, a social movement that campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people. As a consequence of brutal murders of African-American citizens by the hands of police officers, policemen have been generalized as enemies, which has resulted in police arrests no longer being simple measures that must be taken in order to create a safer environment, but rather something that carries a racial connotation.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has responded to the impact that these highly publicized law enforcement killings have had on the recent drop in arrests by stating, “I’d be denying human nature if I didn’t say police are very cautious about what they do now because of the scrutiny.” In addition, per a nationwide survey that was conducted by the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of the law enforcement officers that were surveyed claimed that their colleagues were less likely to stop and question suspicious people “as a result of high-profile incidents involving blacks and the police.” This indicates that the current state of racial tension in the country is most definitely affecting the number of arrests that are being made.
Robert Harris, a police officer on the LAPD union’s board of directors has responded to the effect that the country’s current social climate has had on decreasing number of arrests by stating, “Suddenly you feel like you can’t do any police work, because every opportunity that you have might turn into the next big media case.” While Harris’ viewpoint is understandable since it is inaccurate to label every police officer as racist, the “one person ruins it for everyone” rule nevertheless applies. Thus, because past officers have been responsible for the wrongful deaths of African-American citizens, the police departments of this country must understand that the inability to do police work due to fear stems as a consequence of reckless decisions made in the past.
With all things considered, it is undeniable that streets are now more dangerous due to this drop in number of arrests no matter the reason, and so, remedies for the issue must be sought. As a result of racial tension, police officers are now overly wary of every decision that they make, leading to inadequate performance on the job, and contrastingly, numerous African-American citizens have inequitably lost their lives due to police officers’ prejudice and discrimination. While the most utopian solution to the problem would be to eliminate racism, the matter just isn’t that simple. Therefore, I suggest that we approach this predicament with a surveillance antidote. If body cameras were attached to every officer on duty, in the case that injustices present themselves, those injustices would be caught on camera and vice versa, if the suspect truly did pose a threat to safety, the officer’s innocence would be proven.
While it is an alarming fact that despite the rise in crime, arrests are declining, the root of the problem lies in the fact that various police departments have made some very detrimental decisions in the past. Ergo, the police department should take responsibility for their officers and understand that the feeling of being watched through a magnifying glass is a small price to pay compared to the countless African-Americans that have unjustly lost their lives in horrific and humiliating ways.