Police departments throughout the country are under attack by civil liberty advocates. The power of paramilitary groups, such as the New York Police Department, needs oversight and regulation. But, if this is taken to an extreme, it may dramatically impact the ability of the NYPD to achieve its mission– “to enhance the quality of life in our City by working in partnership with the community and in accordance with constitutional rights to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear, and provide for a safe environment.”
By way of background, there are approximately 34,500 police officers in New York City, or about 41.8 officers for every 10,000 citizens. In 2013, this group investigated 111 thousand major felonies (e.g., murder, rape, robbery, etc.), 57 thousand minor felonies, 359 thousand misdemeanor offenses and 61 thousand violations.
One of the most common complaints about the police has to do with the Department’s use of force in the line of duty. A current case involving the alleged use of a chokehold by police during an arrest has been reported widely by the press.
Some civil liberty advocates agitate citizens against local police to an extent that it could ultimately decrease the effectiveness of law enforcement in NYC in achieving its mission. I am a strong defender of the NYPD and believe the group should be evaluated considering the 500 thousand plus crimes investigated each year, rather than one incident that may have been handled inappropriately.
When any among us are assaulted or our homes are violated, what’s the first thing we do? We call 911. In a very few moments, the police are on the scene investigating the alleged crime. Our Constitution requires that every suspect be treated fairly, understand his rights and not be harmed while in custody, assuming he does not resist arrest. What about the rights of the police officer?
The question is: What methods are available to the police to restrain a suspect, if he resists arrest? Should the police huddle up and try to formulate a non-violent response to a violent action? No, the police should respond immediately using the appropriate amount of force to control the actions of an uncooperative suspect. In some cases, this requires deadly force; in other cases, physical force is sufficient. In too many of these situations, the media stresses the rights of the accused and disregards the danger that threatens the police and innocent bystanders. In some controversial cases, the media seems more focused on the accused rather than the people who were victims of crimes.
The unfortunate incident on Staten Island is an excellent example of premature judgment by civil liberty advocates and the liberal press. This had resulted in mass hysteria. What we know is that the suspect died during an arrest stemming from the sale of untaxed cigarettes. What is not clear is whether the police used an illegal “choke hold” on the suspect while trying to control him. Also, it is not known whether the man died of suffocation from an alleged chokehold or from natural causes; the suspect was obese and suffered from various health ailments.
To be clear, if a police officer did use a technique that is not allowed, I believe he should be censured (or prosecuted) regardless of whether it was the cause of death. However, it is interesting to note that many people were recording the incident, so ultimately, it will probably be clear whether an illegal chokehold was applied. Extraordinary scrutiny of police officers in general (by social media and the like) may result in a reluctance that could cost innocent lives. The specter of accusations and criticism may cause our protectors to be more concerned with their own legal status than the people they are supposed to protect.
The statistics mentioned earlier make it clear that New Yorkers and citizens across the country need protection from violent criminals. The police are our allies not our enemies. Keep in mind that police officers earn a barely subsistence salary of $44 thousand when they enter the Academy. For this meager salary, they risk their lives every working day. The least we can do is be supportive, give them the benefit of doubt and presume their innocence until proven guilty, when they act to protect and serve.