Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
With departments facing scrutiny across the nation, police unions are lashing out at the cities they serve.
Three big shocks in as many weeks in Cleveland have left police officers reeling. Steve Loomis, head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, has said that officers feel uneasy after recent decisions handed down concerning the department—decisions that have put police officers’ lives in danger.
Never mind that each of the judgments in question represents an effort to bring accountability to law enforcement in Cleveland.
"The reality is that we've given the inmates the keys to the asylum," Loomis said, according to The Plain Dealer.
Police reforms embolden criminals: It’s a leap of logic that paints police as the victims of reform. Residents, too: Shape up police departments, and officers will become too fearful to enforce the law.
So is it Cleveland that’s crazy, or the Cleveland Municipal Court, or the U.S. Department of Justice? Maybe its the chief of Cleveland’s police unions who’s lost touch with reality.
Loomis issued his comments in response to a dangerous incident this past Sunday: An officer fired at a suspect during a foot chase. Other unseen suspects were trying to draw police officers into a field to fire on them from above, he said.
Criminals are seizing the opportunity proffered by a public push for police reforms to strike within cities and at officers, goes the logic. Police-union chiefs in other cities have made the same paranoid leaps, and the fiction is being manipulated into a self-fulfilling pseudo-truth: Law-enforcement agencies in Baltimore and New York have matched their next-level concern-trolling with police drawdowns—or what strongly appear to be coordinated work slowdowns—creating a dangerous reality to match the pitched rhetoric.
"The criminals are taking advantage of the situation in Baltimore since the unrest," said Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. Ryan—who denounced peaceful protesters as a “lynch mob”—made the statement shortly after Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby indicted six Baltimore Police Department officers in the death of Freddie Gray.
"Criminals feel empowered now,” Ryan said in a statement. “There is no respect. Police are under siege in every quarter. They are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty."
Arrests in Baltimore subsequently dipped, just as shootings and murders skyrocketed. The proximate cause for this crime surge is the subject of intense debate, but the situation looks an awful lot like a police slowdown.
New York saw an honest-to-goodness work stoppage to protest New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at the end of last year. It ended up being a bust, from the perspective of a police union hell-bent on forcing the public to side with police: Arrests fell by two-thirds, and New York City didn’t get any unsafer. Meanwhile, when New York’s police-union chief waved the bloody flag, it lost him public favor.
"There is blood on many hands, from those that incited violence under the guise of protest to try to tear down what police officers do every day,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association in New York, to the Associated Press. “That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.”
In Cleveland, the decisions that Loomis has depicted as an attack on police came in quick order.
Last week, a judge found probable cause in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Cleveland Division of Police officer Timothy Loehmann may face charges, up to and including murder. (The judge did not find probable cause to charge Frank Garmback, the other officer involved in the shooting.)
Timothy J. McGinty, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, released 224 pages of documents in the Tamir Rice shooting investigation, further enraging the police union. McGinty clashed with police in another, separate case: He charged Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo in the 2012 shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Brelo was acquitted last month.
Finally, late in May, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement that will overhaul law enforcement in Cleveland in an effort to curb excessive force.
“It’s going to get somebody killed,” Loomis told The Plain Dealer in response, meaning that any changes would put officers in peril. “There's going to be a time when someone isn't going to want to do that paperwork, so he's going to keep that gun in its holster.”
People are already getting killed: Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, and Tamir Rice are three of them. And very few police officers are ever prosecuted in deaths like theirs. Paperwork seems like a small price to pay to bolster accountability in law enforcement. In fact, it seems like only the start.