Blue states, Centurions, character, Constitution, disparate impact, Ferguson Effect, Heather Mac Donald, Memphis, race based hiring, racism, Red States, self-restraint, two-tiered policing, two-tired justice, Tyre Nichols, Vanita Gupta
In Destroy Merit, Destroy Lives I wrote about the similarities between the problems we’re increasingly seeing in policing and teaching. I closed with this:
It all, gentle readers, comes down to a rejection of merit. When any organization fails to hold merit—ability, competence, individual and organizational drive for excellence—as its guiding principle, that organization is going to fail. In police work and teaching, the damage is wide spread and its effects go far beyond the damage done to individuals.
In police work and teaching, racism is involved, but it’s the racism of hiring people known to be deficient, and expecting virtually nothing of them, refusing to hold them to even minimum standards of performance.
We are, in America, experiencing a rapidly expanding two-tiered system of justice. We are also experiencing a two-tired system of law enforcement. The former is most obvious—and dangerous—at the federal level. The latter, at the local—major city—level. The existence of any such anti-constitutional system is terribly destructive, because weak, corrupt and evil politicians and their lackeys are drawn to the power and money it provides. Both will tear this nation apart.
The invaluable Heather Mac Donald at City Journal, provides the inspiration for this article. But first, let’s examine what we need in police officers, our Centurions.
A Roman Centurion was essentially equal to a Captain in our military, a man commanding a company of 100 troops. Centurions embodied all the military virtues, not only physically, but morally. They displayed and lived the virtues of Rome, and on their shoulders, Rome stood. It was their self-imposed discipline and virtue that preserved civilization, and when those qualities no longer mattered, Rome fell.
The same is true of our police officers. We train and arm them, and give them great autonomy, relying on their self-discipline, their morality, their self-restraint and courage, their ability and willingness to delay gratification and resist temptation of all kinds–their character—to do what we do not want to do, what we can’t do. Their power is on loan from us, and compels them to the darkest places of society, of the human soul.
Because of the burdens they bear for us, we give them qualified immunity, the legal benefit of the doubt, as long as they prove themselves worthy of it. But now, on the downward spiral of defunding and abolishing the police, many are demanding even that protection be removed. Rather than hiring only people worthy of being Centurions, the current trend is lowering hiring and performance standards in a self-feeding miasma of civilizational destruction. Absent qualified immunity, who in their right mind would want to be a police officer? And so we visit Mac Donald:
Is U.S. policing in a death spiral? Yes, as long as the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers is portrayed as a manifestation of racism. The problems underlying that horrifying episode—the recruitment crisis, lax hiring standards, and depolicing—will worsen, intensified by the very policies ostensibly adopted to prevent another such travesty. The vicious circle of rising crime and a flight from the profession will accelerate.
MacDonald refers to Biden’s SOTU speech—I covered it here—in which he whipped up anti-police, racist, hatred.
Other Democrats spread that same message, amplified by the mainstream media. According to Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Nichols was killed by ‘white supremacy. Killed by America.’ Blacks ‘live in a constant state of terror,’ Bowman said in a fundraising pitch. ‘We feel it every day.’
That the five cops charged with Nichols’s murder were black does not refute the racism narrative, argue political and press elites. Black cops, no less than white cops, absorb the police culture of anti-black racism, the argument goes.
It’s a purposefully racist, hateful argument. As regular readers know, black people have little to fear form police officers of any race. They reasonably fear young, black males, particularly in our cities Here, Mac Donald explains the only rational basis for analysis:
The only question should be: what is the actual evidence that race affected a use of force? Those who contend that racism killed Tyre Nichols have no evidence to back up their claim, so they offer a thought experiment instead: Would the five Memphis cops have behaved as brutally had Nichols been white? To anti-cop activists, the answer is self-evidently no.
But another thought experiment is in order: Did these cops possess the tactical skill and psychological disposition to conduct any high-risk car stop according to professional standards? Given what is shown in the videos, the answer, even more self-evidently, is no.
Mac Donald provides the analysis of the Nichols case I did not provide in the earlier article, which had a different focus.
The officers ignored protocol for car stops, whereby a driver is told to stay in his car and show his hands; instead, for no apparent reason, they dragged Nichols out of the car and manhandled him to the ground. They failed to tell him the reason for the stop. They failed to follow a chain of command, whereby the officer who initiated the stop usually takes the tactical lead; instead, they operated without coordination and at cross purposes. They issued contradictory commands that could not be simultaneously obeyed. They escalated their use of force without provocation. They increased everyone’s stress by screaming profanities at a cowering Nichols; it is Nichols, not the officers, who poignantly tries to deescalate the situation by pointing out his compliance. Having unjustifiably resorted to a taser and pepper spray, the cops botched their deployment of those devices. They were unable to handcuff Nichols, despite his low level of resistance and the officers’ superior numbers. They either never turned on their body cameras, turned them on belatedly, turned them off again, or removed them altogether. One officer texted a cell phone photo of a beaten and bloodied Nichols to five people, as if Nichols were a big-game trophy. The officers failed to alert a supervisor after they used their stun gun and pepper spray.
All this before one even gets to the gratuitous violence. The kicks and blows that rained down on Nichols’s head as he is hoisted up by some of the officers to receive those blows are heartbreaking. Officers are taught never to strike a suspect in the head unless he poses an imminent threat of deadly force. Yet these officers laughed and bragged to one another about their lawless brutality.
Either Memphis’s police training is grossly inadequate, or these officers were incapable of processing it. In either case, it is fully conceivable that they would treat a white driver with as much savage incompetence.
Of course it is. That black officers in a majority black police agency would beat a black man to death in Memphis is a factor of the city’s majority black population, and the fact the officers were assigned to patrol particularly high crime areas—black—in a high crime city.
The Nichols beating is not the product of racism; it is the tragic culmination of the very narrative being offered to explain that beating. The idea that policing is racist, both in its treatment of black suspects and in its hiring of black officers, has led to manpower loss, a lowering of standards, and a drop in proactive enforcement. The resulting increase in crime then puts more downward pressure on hiring standards in order to try to replenish the depleted ranks. Unable to compensate for officer attrition, police departments are left without enough well-trained sergeants and lieutenants to supervise officers who maybe should never have been hired in the first place.
Here we enter into the two-tiered enforcement realm. We are becoming a nation where blue states reject the Constitution and rule of law. Particularly in their cities, everything Mac Donald says about lowering of standards is true, and despite lawlessness worsening, politicians and their constituents continue to double down on murderous failure. In red states, while the trend toward contempt for the Constitution and rule of law is not unknown, law enforcement continues to rely, largely successfully, on the Centurion model.
The Memphis Police Department is typical. It lost more than 300 officers in the last two years to resignations and retirements, and 1,350 officers over the last decade; its numbers are down 22 percent since 2011.
This understanding is vital. No American police agency is overstaffed. In order to place one patrol officer on the street 24/7/365, at least four—actual closer to five—must be hired. That’s three officers for three daily eight-hour shifts, and the rest to cover for illness, vacations, training, court and all the other essentials that periodically take officers off the street. Missing officers force those that remain to take overtime shifts, which is great for the paycheck, but terrible for physical and mental health, which leads to greater sick time, further dragging down the rest.
In 2018, the MPD eliminated the requirement of a college degree. The department regularly requested permission from the police licensing board to hire rookies with felony and misdemeanor convictions. A former lieutenant in charge of recruiting complained to the Associated Press that the department let ‘just pretty much anybody’ become a police officer. The most brutal officer in the Nichols beating, Emmitt Martin III, joined the force in 2018. He had at least one arrest on his record, whose details have been redacted. The criminal history of another officer in the beating, Demetrius Haley, was also redacted from state records. Haley joined the force in January 2021.
Why is education important? Great cops are born, not made. They have the genetic endowment to see what others can’t, to make connections to which others are oblivious. Surely, training can help others become competent police officers, but mental flexibility in policing is essential. So is optimum moral clarity and character. Police officers must be able to deal effectively with people from all facets of society. They have to make those adjustments on the fly. The successful completion of schooling indicates at least the basic ability to focus, to learn, some degree of self-discipline, and most importantly, a distinctly American character. Yes. I know in some places, that can no longer be assumed, but we need a hiring baseline.
Meantime, Memphis crime soared. The years 2020 and 2021 saw record levels of killings. Memphis has the highest violent-crime rate in the United States; it ranks ninth in homicides per capita. Reckless driving also spiked, providing an additional impetus for the creation of the specialized enforcement unit where the five Nichols cops worked. (The Nichols officers initially claimed that Nichols was driving the wrong way down a street.)
Memphis’s manpower woes are hardly unique. In a national sample of 194 police agencies, retirements rose 45 percent in 2020, compared with 2019; resignations rose 18 percent. Departments with 500 or more officers saw a 36 percent decrease in hiring in 2020. These trends almost certainly worsened in 2021 and 2022.
Mac Donald is speaking almost entirely of blue cities in blue states. Officers who resigned from those hell holes and remained in policing, fled to places—red states—where they were allowed to equally enforce the law, where they could do what Centurions are expected and allowed to do.
Yet across the country, even as the political stigma against police poisons recruiting, the pressure to align police demographics with local demographics remains unrelenting. Vanita Gupta, the third-highest ranking official in the Justice Department and the former head of the department’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama, told the Washington Post last week: ‘We have all been promoting . . . police officers that will reflect the communities that they serve.’ Such diversity hiring is in part a response to the ‘recognition’ of what Gupta calls ‘racial bias in our criminal justice system.’ And one of the alleged sources of bias is hiring criteria that have a disparate impact on blacks.
Gupta, among the worst racist, federal cracktivists, has it backward. We need Centurions, people capable of upholding the highest qualities of equal justice for all, of acting morally and correctly in furtherance of the constitutional values that make America great. We need people capable of sound judgment, of the highest moral character, people simultaneously capable of great kindness, and when necessary, restrained, lawful violence. When we hire based on race rather than on merit, we embark on America’s destruction. Like this:
This disparate-impact thinking is the second cause of watered-down hiring standards. It has a long history. In a prototypical case, a 1990 federal consent decree required the Philadelphia Police Department to stop ranking applicants based on their performance on the police hiring exam. That exam was presumptively racist since whites passed it at four times the rate of blacks. The possibility that black candidates, on average, lacked the requisite academic skills to pass the exam was outside the realm of allowable thinking. The consent decree mandated that the department admit blacks based on their numbers in the applicant pool, not on their test results. A devastating misconduct episode, the 39th Police District scandal, followed.
A 1998 report from the department’s anti-corruption office, created in response to that scandal, described a typical recruit under the new hiring standards: unable to spell simple words or write a basic sentence, unable to pass a polygraph test about drugs on his first five tries, unable to get credit because of his lousy payment history—yet hired anyway. A current Philadelphia police inspector applied in 1994, along with 30,000 other applicants. Whereas most whites clustered at the high end of entrance exam scores, most of the blacks in his entering class of 150 scored below the passing score of 70 but were admitted anyway. Fifteen recruits were fired before completing training. Reasons included the commission of felonies while in the academy or testing positive for drugs. All the fired recruits were likely affirmative-action hires. The 1998 report analyzed a six-month stretch in 1997 and found that 17 officers during that time frame had been charged with homicide, rape, statutory rape, off-duty assault, and theft—a crime wave of ‘startling proportions,’ according to the department’s integrity and accountability officer, James B. Jordan.
Do you, gentle readers, begin to see why Philadelphia is among America’s most corrupt cities in one of America’s most corrupt states? Do you see why election fraud is rampant in that city and state? Keep in mind the few recruits fired were only the worst of the worst. Those that remained were only better at hiding their corruption, or engaged in only low-level corruption and crime, the sort that is defacto acceptable in such places. MacDonald engages in understatement:
Gupta may believe that officers should reflect the communities they serve. But if such racial proportionality is achieved at the expense of competence, the results do not serve those communities. An Obama-era report on the Philadelphia Police Department, for instance, found that black and Hispanic officers were more likely than white officers to shoot an unarmed black man based on threat-perception failure—mistaking a cell phone for a gun, say.
Not only no, but hell no! Police officers must reflect the highest American, constitutional values. Their character, not their race, must be unassailable. They must be examples of what their communities should be, what they must be, not of their contemporary racial, gender and sexual composition.
An insufficient number of officers means more crime. Those officers remaining on a force will be less likely to intervene in suspicious behavior. They know that if an interaction turns violent, back-up may be slow to arrive.
They also suffer from the Ferguson Effect. Officers working under-strength shifts know help may never come—it’s just not available. They also know they won’t be supported, particularly if they arrest politically protected criminals, which these days, in blue cities, is virtually all of them. Professional officers no longer engage in proactive policing—they don’t seek out the worst criminals when and where they know they’re committing crimes. They do the minimum, answering calls only, and even then, avoiding calls and situations where they might have to use force against violent criminals. Being afraid to use force is dangerous to officers, and to the public. All of this is exacerbated by prosecutors who refuse to prosecute pretty much anyone but police officers.
Potential criminals will be more likely to break the law as the risk of being stopped or arrested plunges. With crime rising, existing officers will work longer hours without time off or adequate rest, increasing the possibility of threat misperception. Without sufficient back-up, an officer confronting a resisting suspect may be more inclined to escalate his own use of force beyond what appears justified to civilian observers, starting the anti-cop cycle all over again. Yet with crime rising, the political pressure to hire more cops, by any means, goes up in tandem.
MacDonald provides, as always, actual facts to back her assertions:
The only thing that will get policing out of its death spiral is the widespread repudiation of the racism narrative. It is not racism that brings officers into more frequent contact with minorities; it is exceedingly high rates of crime in minority communities. It is not the police who are responsible for the fact that blacks between the ages of ten and 24 die of gun homicide at 25 times the rate of whites in that age bracket; those black victims are shot almost exclusively by black criminals. In 2022, seven allegedly unarmed blacks were fatally shot by police officers, out of a national homicide death toll for blacks that will likely exceed 10,000 and a black population of 44 million. Meantime, dozens of blacks are killed every day (more than all white and Hispanic homicide victims combined, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the U.S. population), to no attention from the mainstream media or from Black Lives Matter activists, because their assailants are not cops and are not white.
Sadly, our police forces are limited because we are limited to hiring solely from the human race, a race that is, from its birth, prone to evil. If we do not maintain the highest standards in hiring, training and retention, ignoring race and every other immutable factor, we commit societal suicide. We must hire police officers to reflect what our communities should be. We have to hire Centurions, not low life, uneducated street thugs. We can expect little else when over-schooled, under-educated street thugs inhabit the halls of power.
The death spiral continues.
Just a possibly helpful statistic: The Justice Dept. website reveals that there are 800,000 “sworn officers” at the federal, state and local levels. That combined total of “police man power” has to cover the entire population of the U.S. Counting just adults that still means the individual police officers are “out numbered” by about 327 adults. So yes, that’s a helluva work load. (It also indicates the impossibility of confiscating the ~ 130 million privately owned firearms in this country even if they’re surrendered voluntarily which they won’t be. )
Mike McDaniel said:
As I’ve so often written, most Americans would be horrified to learn how few officers are patrolling their towns. People who live in rural America know they’re pretty much on their own.
Elmer Fudd said:
Speaking of Centurions:
I don’t know about horrified but I’ve observed a lot of under appreciation for law enforcement officers. I had an uncle (I’m now in my 70’s so it’s always “I had”) who was a Detroit police officer in the 1940s. Those days, there were no body cameras or even police radios. An officer typically walked an area on foot patrol – alone. One night, he happened upon two individuals in an alley breaking into a jewelry store and had to apprehend them alone. That didn’t work out well for him. He survived but was overwhelmed by the two burglars in the dark alley and one of them took his gun and shot him. End of career in “police work.”
I have known a few police officers. One of them eventually became police chief in a mid-size town in Kentucky. So I have a lot of stories like that to tell. What strikes me is the complete lack of understanding of the relationship between citizen and law enforcement. I’ve had a couple of encounters and I’ve been thanked for my response to those officers. They are really surprised that I understand my role and theirs so well.
I worry about what might happen if what you’ve described becomes more common. And I agree fully: this deterioration is indication that our very civilization is in peril.
And the last Centurion took a barbarian wife and became a farmer.
I think you and all your followers will recall from history (or having watched “Patton”) the depiction of the valiant Roman conqueror returning to Rome with his legions from the distant campaigns to the cheering crowds. Him being in his chariot ahead of the parade of captured spoils and a defeated enemy soon to be enslaved, and a slave standing behind him reminding him that “all glory is fleeting”.. or “remember you will die”.. or “remember you are mortal” (pick your context). The point is that even early Roman (and Greek) culture understood the frails and limitations of mortal mankind. The expectations you cite of Roman Centurions, and in Waumbaugh fashion assigning law enforcement as the modern centurions in their dedication and devotion to their job, is a bit of apples and oranges. Rome paid their soldiers well and there were perks along the way, like looting, to “buy” a measure of dedication and loyalty… Depends what point in time of the 800 year history of the military. Seems to me we’ve forgotten that part of human frailty Rome recognized. By comparison modern police are not compensated “to keep them honest”. And just being a cop does not insulate their real world family stresses and needs from their daily jobs, any more than a person employed to flip burgers might take his family problems to his job, we are asking police to approach their job as if they were above being human… this “elite” mindset. Society expects too much from police and policing.
Sure, you can blame politicians, point fingers at ideologies, degradation of family values, hiring practices, faulty management, unions.. but seems a start is looking at “self”.
BUT… that part is only one part of MANY elements contributing to our current crisis in policing, most being societal. This isn’t a “cop problem” at all because policing reflects what society expects of them… and then forgets.