It's Broken. Now How Do We Fix It?

If the first step is admitting you have a problem, then the second is addressing it. If we're serious, if we're really really serious about working to slow down the rate of violent crime in some of our more dangerous cities, then we as a country need to start looking at some changes to make without being too pollyannaish about it.

  1. More Outreach Programs - Outreach programs, aimed more so to youth, will help forge relationship's with local officers that the community's can look to build on. Consider it an investment on the community and, in turn, making a cop's job potentially easier and safer. It's much more difficult to dehumanize each other, from either side of the aisle, when you have a familiarity with that person.

  2. More Community Policing - As outreach programs would seek to do, more beat cops, or community policing, would help to forge relationships with those that live there. A study concluded to "suggest that community policing can have a favorable impact on the perceptions of police officers and neighborhood residents."1 And at this point, what does it hurt to try and improve everyone's perceptions here?!

  3. More Extensive Training - Some states require more hours of training for other professions, not tasked with the public's safety, than to be a police officer. In fact, the states of California and Florida mandate less than half the minimum-hour requirements to be a cop than to become a licensed cosmetologist or interior designer, respectively. Missouri, owner of the number 1 homicide city, per capita, in the U.S. in 2015, requires under 1,000 hours of training to act as an officer; wholly less than the 1,500 hours it takes to be a barber.2

  4. Demilitarization of Local Police Departments - Local police departments operating with weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets don't exactly scream out Serve and Protect, does it? In a complex issue where it's difficult for both sides to trust each other, it's often a perception rather than a reality that escalates matters. And rolling out Army gear to shut down a protest gives off exactly that wrong perception. A kind of Us vs. Them perception.

On the economic side of this, violent crime and unemployment rates tend to correlate. Of the top 20 most dangerous U.S. cities in 2015,3 as per the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting, not a single city finished the year with a median unemployment rate lower than that of the national average of 5%. Top 20 cities like Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Newark, Washington D.C., Memphis, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago all saw at least tens of thousands more than the country average of their own residents go without work. St. Louis, which lead the list of U.S. cities with the highest homicide rate per capita, only saw a decline in homicides in the final couple months of the year when there was a decline in the unemployment rate.

As with unemployment rates; poverty levels, too, trend with violent crime. Damn near half of Detroit's entire population (over 40%) survived 2015 earning under $20,000. For a family of four. That's well under the national poverty line. And then, sometimes, average income of a given city doesn't tell the whole story. Sometimes, a city is divided by the nice area and the.. not so nice area. A Bloomberg News study4 evaluated the most unequal major U.S. cities; basing their findings on those with the highest concentrations of people living in the highest and lowest levels of the income spectrum, with basically no room for an in-between for a middle class. Major cities Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. all found themselves on the list of largest income inequalities.

“The median household income of black households in St. Louis is $31,200, compared to $61,200 for white households,”5 The unemployment level for blacks in the St. Louis labor force is 2.8 times higher than it is for whites, which puts St. Louis eighth-highest in that category. In Baltimore, second on the list of cities with the highest homicide rate per capita, blacks have a median household income of $33,610, compared to a $60,550 median household income for whites.

"It is concluded that poverty and income equality are each associated with violent crime"6. Rather than file this under the title of 'no shit', it's important to show the data to support the feelings. Once the issue is proven and identified, only then can you best tackle it. Jobs, companies and opportunities left these cities, leaving a void and a desperation to make a living. Re-evaluate the relationships cops have with their communities, and vice versa, and bring back economic opportunities there if our government is serious about reducing violent crime in our most dangerous cities. Until then, the cycle continues.

"Because crime is more likely to flourish when disorder or lawlessness is the prevalent norm, those who wish to control crime should focus on regulating the social dynamics that create community norms."7

1. An Inside Look at Community Policing Reform: Definitions, Organizational Changes, and Evaluation Findings






7. Tracey L. Meares & Dan M. Kahan, Law and (Norms of) Order in the Inner City, 32 L. & SOC'Y REV. 805, 806 (1998) [hereinafter Meares & Kahan, Order in the Inner City].