The Proactive Policing Problem

July 16, 2018

In this country there are cities—actually particular neighborhoods of cities—that are, if we are to be honest, shooting galleries. Gang and territorial issues, personal slights, drug enterprises in conflict—all result in remorseless criminals firing their weapons at other human beings. Often their tactic is to drive by and spray an area with bullets in the hopes of hitting their intended target. If they miss and hit a 4-year-old sitting on a front porch, it’s collateral damage.

Another Shooting, Except …

Last Saturday the police in Chicago hit the streets in the neighborhoods where people are afraid of the criminal element. When several officers spotted a man with an illegal gun (because all guns are basically illegal in Chicago), they ordered him to stop. He didn’t. He resisted their attempts to control his arms and hands, broke away, reached for the gun, and a police officer shot him. He died.

And all hell broke loose. Protests. Rocks, bottles with urine and other debris were thrown at the police trying to control the angry crowds.

Screams of “racism” (no matter the color of the officers) from the crowd towards the police who were trying to both control and protect. “Murderers” was another common refrain from the angry protesters.

The video, the only one released so far, has no audio attached (see edited and amended version, below). I don’t know why the officers approached in the first place, so, admittedly, I lack important facts.

But I do know this. If you are illegally armed and the police tell you to stop, and you do, there will be no problem other than you may be arrested. But if you reach for that weapon while in close contact with a police officer who has the legal authority to detain you, then any reasonable officer—or reasonable person for that matter—would conclude that your intentions are deadly. A person has the right to protect him or herself, and a police officer has the further responsibility to protect the public at large.

Proactivity, Please

The citizens in the Chicago neighborhoods where violence reigns want the police there and to be proactive. 911 operators get pleas for the police constantly. But what they want them to actually do, well, that’s complicated.

A woman in a community meeting addressing the rampant violence a year or so ago said something to the effect of, “We do want the police to do stop-and-frisk, we just want them to stop the right people.”

And therein lies the problem.

My hometown of Chicago isn’t the deadliest in America (Baltimore has that distinction). But it does have more murders than Los Angeles and New York combined, each of which is far larger in terms of population. The Windy City, in some areas, is a war zone. Let’s look at the last three years.

2016: Total shot: 4,380        Total Homicides: 808
2017: Total shot: 3,561       Total Homicides: 682
2018 so far: Total shot: 1,522       Total Homicides: 295

On Saturday, July 7, protesters, led by a Catholic Priest, Michael Pfleger shutdown a major Chicago expressway. The over 1,000 marchers chanted, “Stop the killing,” “Enough is enough” and “Peace.” The priest, who denied requests by the State Police to leave at least one lane open for traffic, locked arms with Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Pfleger in one of his speeches to the media said, “The people won today because the people showed up. They saw this many people out here, black and white and brown and young and old, and saying, ‘We’re tired of the damn violence in Chicago.’”

The cleric added, “We want the governor, the mayor, the elected officials and the community all to come together and say, ‘We want peace now.’”

The priest demanded the government act.

So the police are trying, again, to do their part.

We, as a profession, have our history—as I always say. Some bad apples slip into the barrel. Some agencies have systemic issues. Chicago has a particularly storied history.

Chicago PD has more than 12,000 cops today. Most join because they want to be involved in the city where they live. They want to protect the innocent. So they jump through hoops, take tests, go through a year’s worth of training, and finally they are out on a beat.

What many people don’t realize is that that officers can’t be made to actually work. Oh, they have to answer their 911 calls, and you can make them show up and patrol certain areas, but you can’t make them write tickets to violators. You certainly can’t make them be proactive. Visibility is all police administrations can, to some level, control. So they flood the violent areas with uniformed cops.

But making the officers make proactive stops, look for and engage with suspicious people that fit the parameter of the state laws, city ordinances, and the case laws handed down by the Supreme Court—nope. It’s up to the individual officer.

The officer who fired in this case had not only the legal authority to do so but also the moral imperative. A person fleeing and shooting on a crowded street is likely, after all, to shoot bystanders.


If police officers are vilified even when their force is both justified and necessary (two different things), then, as I’ve warned in columns for over three years, they will just stop being proactive.

Then what?

Look at this video again. You tell me what you would have done.


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