Today on Seattle a.m. talk radio I listened to a program where the host made an astonishing claim – President Obama has devastated and demoralized the police across the country and as a result we are now experiencing a murder epidemic. This is not the first time I’ve heard this claim from conservative media outlets. William Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations accuses President Obama of not condemning attacks on police officers while simultaneously blaming police for the “problems in this country” in an interview on Fox News (1). Other outlets claim that “[President Obama] never missed a chance to interject himself into any circumstance that would serve to diminish the standing of the police within the communities they serve.” and also that he “empowered the shooter to act” (2).
There are so many talking points brought up that it is bewildering to try to parse for discussion. To be clear up front – I am a liberal partisan. My (continuing) goal is to reinforce my claim that conservative viewpoints generally are not rooted in facts, data, or reality. I am not an expert on criminology or police and will have to rely on a little bit of research. So, where to begin?
How about with, how do cops prevent murder? From the DOJ – “…how can [police] prevent one person from killing another? When viewed in that broad context, the answer probably is that they can’t.” (3). From the same article – “As Washington, D.C.’s Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier pointed out after a rash of homicides in early June, there is a limit to how much law enforcement alone can do to prevent killings.” (3) There is some data to suggest that so called “smart policing” – where cops use technology to analyze and sift through information previously collected in order to predict crime – has been successfully used to confront would-be criminals as a deterrent (4).
Are we having a “murder epidemic”? To answer this I suppose depends somewhat on your interpretation of the data. “According to FBI data, the rate of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000 inhabitants. That’s lower than the rate in 1970, which was 7.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, and it’s lower than the peak rate of 10.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1980. Overall, the rate in 2015 was lower than any other time between 1965 and 2009.” (5). Although it is true that the violent crime rate has jumped more in 2015 than it has in nearly 25 years “the number of homicides remained far below the levels of the 1980s and ’90s.” (6). Police and criminologists say there is no single explanation for the increase.
How has President Obama demoralized the police? I’ve tried to find examples of how he has done this. Most of what I have uncovered seems more like the expression of legitimate questions from the President as in where he quotes seemingly legitimate statistics about law enforcement’s treatment of minorities and condemning the justice system of being plagued by systemic racism. (7). I have quoted some of these statistics in previous writings. Other sources make outlandish claims like “there is no doubt that President Obama hates the police” (8) with no factual data provided to prove their point. My feeling is that there is widespread concern among law enforcement about how policing is conducted. There surely is widespread concern about it among the civilian populace. I will leave this question unanswered because I do not think I am qualified to assess the state of moral for law enforcement across the country. However, I do think that the chief law enforcement officer in the country, the Director of the FBI, willfully interfered in the 2016 election. I suppose that says something.
What is the connection between demoralized police and the murder rate? The show I listened to (that prompted this article) was making this connection. I think I have already answered it – experts on criminology don’t know what has caused the increase in violent crime in 2015. But as its clear that police don’t really prevent murders, I think the answer is no. As a side note, the same article I quoted in footnote #3 says that there are five components that have to be in place for a murder to take place – victim, offender, means, motive, and opportunity. Notice that “police” is not one of the factors.
Has Obama not condemned attacks on police? Well this is an easy one to debunk. Of course he has. Time and time again. “[President Obama said] nothing justifies violence against law enforcement” (9) or “[President Obama] called the shooting deaths of at least five Dallas police officers a vicious, calculated and despicable attack and a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices of law enforcement.” (10).
Has Obama blamed police for the problems in this country? The short answer is no. Has the President called out injustice a couple of times? Yeah. And good on him for doing so. Slate did a much better expose on this question than I can do. (Look for footnote #11)
The last two statements hardly seem worth looking up – How has Obama diminished the standing of police in the communities they serve? and Did Obama empower any shooters to act?
Daniel Cashman, EAMP, MS (AOM), NCCAOM Dipl. Acupuncture