I follow both Kansas City and Camden comings and goings. Right now, in the heat of August, most bloggers and newsies attentions turn to crime and violence. Atmospheric heat = street violence. Just another season in the crime cycle. But this year people are pointing to a decline in the rate of violent homicides on the streets, but others point out that the rate is slowing while actual numbers are still higher in KC and Camden, even though nationally the numbers and rates are declining. I have a couple of news articles in my list to the right, that discuss the current sea change in the Camden police department. If you want to know what's going on in KC - read Tony's Kansas City blog (see my blog roll). Here's my take on the situation:
Rule #1 - there will forever be violence, murder, and mayhem on the streets where poor people are stuck because drugs, unemployment, and despair lead to crime. So all these folks that keep commenting on news stories and blogs should stop judging and realize it is a sobering reality to live in the urban core because that is all you have.
Rule #2 - statistics are always interpreted and interpretation is subjective. Does it matter if crime rates are going up or down if we still have 150 homicides in KC and 30 in Camden in 8 months? KC is 475,000 people in 300 square miles. Camden is 76,000 people in 9 square miles. Size matters.
Rule #3 - police on the street is part of the solution. In Camden, the new chief has put cops on the street to practice spot enforcement and martial law. It's designed to be a wake up call for rampant lawlessness on the streets in some neighborhoods. Basically, however, it is saying that the police will force crime to go underground. That sounds good - because if you aren't dealing on the streets, it is less likely that a drive-by shooting will claim innocent people sitting on their porch or stoop, or a kid playing in the street. It's laughable that the police union in Camden is whining about lunches missed and grieving the loss of time off. Sorry, but millions of people work their lunch hour every day to get the job done (I do). Camden is in trouble and it is your job to help fix it. It's a big change when the new chief says go patrol in the tough neighborhoods - and now you don't have a choice. Why did the police every have a choice? And if there are too few cops in Camden, why were any of them assigned to sitting behind a desk?
Rule #4 - jobs, jobs, jobs - urban core neighborhoods are dysfunctional because there are no jobs. The rest of the country is starting to feel that now. Suburban neighborhoods with foreclosures are finding that the houses are unsightly and unkempt and making people annoyed. Petty crime is up in the suburbs. We glorify a suburban widow dealing drugs in Weeds. Why? because she can make money doing it - why else? Drugs in the urban core is a business - a violent, dangerous, cutthroat business. It is an illegal business, but when there is money to be made, people will make it. Don't have to commute, dress is casual, I know my co-workers, and I get paid in cash. This is the American dream. If farmers in Afghanistan can grow poppies as a cash crop, inner city residents will deal drugs. Give people something else to grow or sell or get paid to do that is commensurate with their time and effort - and people will stop selling drugs. But please, don't offer the drug dealers and users a minimum wage job working 40 hours a week at the grocery store as a substitute unless there is health insurance, walk to work, easy wardrobe, and a willingness to accept people not judge them. Will people want to get off the dangerous streets? Yes, they will. But not to be insulted, to earn a fraction of what they had earned, and to not be compensated to replace the incredible danger of their former job.
I think the police are incredible people - they take on a job that most people don't want. But just because you wear a badge, doesn't mean you have license to be a prick or a bitch. Doesn't mean you don't have to maintain control of a situation - I get it that police can easily be in danger and not everyone likes them. It is a dangerous job and no one has forced you to take it. You do the job and we are grateful, but it doesn't make you immune from criticism. You carry a gun and are licensed to use it on your judgment. That's an incredible responsibility. But bear in mind that people are to be protected too, not just brutalized and ordered about. It is a difficult line, but we need you to do your job and do it well - not just be a thug. We have plenty of those on the streets already.