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By: Kevin Townsend
The good news: Crime is down; the bad news: Law enforcement has become more treacherous. Many agencies detail statistics similar to Los Angeles, CA where Chief Beck reported an 8 percent decrease in violent crime, but 26 percent increase in officer assaults in his city in 2011.
How is that possible? Gang members plague jurisdictions throughout the country and often have a value system that rewards violence and assaults on law enforcement. In California, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges regularly put felons on notice that their most recent serious conviction was their second and are now facing a “3rd Strike,” causing some criminals to throw caution to the wind when facing arrest because they have nothing to lose.
These issues have been in place for years and most likely helped to drive down crime so what’s new? LAPD’s Chief Beck commented he felt his officers were better at getting to in-progress calls quicker, increasing the potential for violence. The economic recession has hurt governmental revenue sources and forced many agencies to make due with less, including less personnel and less of a budget to equip and train. Drug courts, such as those in California and Florida, strive to leave more drug abusers out of jail so they can attend drug counseling. Many of them, however, have eroded their ability to make sound decisions through fundamental damages to their brain’s communication system and are on the streets where they interact with law enforcement. Many organizations have trimmed their mental health service funding as part of an effort to reduce their overall operating budget. Jail and prison systems across the nation are overcrowded, promoting the need for more releases and the resulting ever rising criminal population to supervise in our communities. Finally, some have commented that they have not seen the elevated level of anti-government sentiment, often boosting a person’s willingness to assault law enforcement, in today’s culture since the turbulent 1970’s.
Whether its quick responses, dwindling police budgets, gang members’ violent culture, desperate convicted felons, irrational drug abusers, unstable persons needing mental health treatment, strains on entities attempting to supervise criminals out of custody, an overall willingness to “take on the government,” or a combination thereof, today’s law enforcement is operating in a hazardous environment. Whatever the reason, it is important for law enforcement to recognize the danger and work to pool their resources and support an atmosphere of teamwork and safety.
Kevin Townsend is a sergeant with the Riverside Police Department in Californa. He is also a MPA student at California Baptist University in Riverside and a member of the Inland Empire ASPA chapter.