When the Sheepdogs Become the Sheep

What happens to crime fighters when the cost of the fight is too high? What happens when politicians find it in their best interests to ignore real crime, i.e., shootings, robberies, burglaries, and the like, and instead focus on violations of what we might call the Pandemic Penal Code?

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has taken it upon itself to crack down on so-called “super-spreader parties” taking place around the county as young people seek ways to socialize while bars and restaurants are shut down due to Covid-19 regulations. The department has deployed what some may consider an inordinate amount of resources to combat these parties.

Why inordinate? Like most big-city departments in the country, the L.A. Sheriff’s Department saw a drastic rise in homicides during 2020, logging 199 for the year compared to 145 the previous year. (Note that these numbers do not include statistics for the city of Los Angeles, which had 343 homicides as of Dec. 26.) On the list of priorities for any law enforcement agency, one would expect to find reduction in homicides placed somewhere above eradication of underground parties.

Dangerous desperadoes.

And, while the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t ordinarily take enforcement action within the city limits of Los Angeles, where the LAPD has responsibility, deputies have repeatedly broken up parties in LAPD territory. Some might applaud this expenditure of resources as valuable in the fight against Covid but, again, shouldn’t it be a question of priorities?

If the Sheriff’s Department is so keen on attacking problems within the jurisdiction of the LAPD, perhaps they should devote some of those party-hunters to the LAPD’s Southeast Division, which covers Watts and the surrounding areas of South L.A., and where the number of shooting victims is up 3,700 percent during the most recent four-week reporting period compared to the same period a year ago.

I single out the L.A. Sheriff’s Department only because I live in the Los Angeles media market, where anyone who watches the local news can’t help but be aware of stories like this one and this one, with scenes of docile party-goers herded about like so many sheep to the shearers.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials continued to crack down on coronavirus “super-spreader” events and underground parties over the weekend as COVID-19 cases soar, the agency announced Sunday.

The operation by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Super-Spreader Task Force busted an underground event at 600 Block of West Manchester Avenue in South L.A. Saturday night and approximately 167 adults were cited for violating county health orders and released, sheriff’s officials said.

Another 50 people received warnings and were advised about the order, as well as COVID-19 health and safety measures, the agency said. Videos released by the agency Sunday showed dozens of masked people lined up against a wall outside a commercial building as officers escorted dozens more out of a building. Authorities did not elaborate on the event or whether any of the people they cited were arrested.

But the misplaced priorities are hardly unique to Los Angeles, or even to the United States. In Chicago, for example, where shootings and murders rose by 50 percent in 2020, politicians find it easier to enforce Covid-19 restrictions on otherwise law abiding people than to crack down on those responsible for all the violence. And in London, England, where crime has been rising steadily for five years, the Metropolitan Police recently mustered a large number of officers, a police dog, and a helicopter to raid a party being held in what they described as a “flagrant breach of Covid regulations.”

But perhaps nowhere have the police been as zealous in enforcing Covid restrictions as in Australia, where, according to Human Rights Watch, a pregnant woman was charged with “incitement” and arrested in front of her children for organizing an anti-lockdown protest on Facebook, another pregnant woman was forbidden from resting on a park bench during her government-allowed hour of outdoor exercise, and a woman with cerebral palsy was prevented from resting while out for a walk with her 70-year-old mother.

One may laugh at these excesses and think such deprivations could never happen here, in the Land of the Free, but recall that in the early days of the lockdown in California we saw a surfer fined $1,000 for daring to enter the water on an otherwise empty beach, people ticketed for sitting in their cars watching the sunset, and,  in what may still be the most farcical display of all, a lone paddleboarder off the coast of Malibu chased down and arrested with the help of not just one but two patrol boats.

It was during that early lockdown period that I happened to drive from Malibu to downtown Los Angeles, a journey that opened my eyes to the misplaced priorities among some in local law enforcement. The drive took me past miles and miles of beaches under sheriff’s department guard against the possibility someone might set foot on the sand or dip his toes in the Pacific.

But when I arrived in downtown Los Angeles I found things much as they have been for years, with homeless encampments lining the streets, their denizens free to mill about and do as they please, which in most cases is to indulge their various addictions and to deposit their various excretions in whatever public space they happen to occupy when the urge strikes.

Some lives matter.

But you see, enforcing the law against homeless people is difficult, as the “unhoused community” have become something like pets among Los Angeles politicos, few if any of whom are burdened with these encampments near their own homes. Surfers, paddleboarders, sunset watchers? They have no political patrons and must be brought to heel, for the good of all, of course.

During the summer’s riots following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, when rioters in cities across the country were excused from following the Covid precautions expected of the rest of us, we witnessed the display of police officers “taking a knee” in demonstrations of solidarity with the protesters, with one Massachusetts police chief taking the self-abasement to a humiliating level when, at the urging of the crowd, he lay face down on the steps outside his police station.

No super-spreading here.

Such political gestures won a measure of cheap grace from the crowds but did little to abate the violence, as there was little overlap between the peaceful protesters and those who busied themselves looting and burning. Worse, the kneeling and groveling reflected the division in police departments between the cops on the front lines battling rioters, those who would sooner take a bullet than a knee, and those in administrative posts who find value in theatrical gestures.

Sadly, it is the kneelers who run most police departments, reflecting the politics of those in the municipal governments they serve. They can’t make the others kneel (though some tried), but they can dictate their enforcement efforts. When fighting real crime becomes politically risky, they can justify their positions by enforcing lockdowns and related restrictions on ordinary people who for nearly a year have been conditioned to submit.

When the last of the sheepdogs have been turned into sheep, expect the wolves to rejoice and act accordingly.

Social 'Justice' Comes to Los Angeles

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, on the occasion of his defeat in the 1989 Democratic primary by the late David Dinkins, was asked if he would again seek public office. “No,” he said. “The people have spoken . . . and they must be punished.”

Well and properly punished they were, as things turned out. During Dinkins’s single term as mayor, crime and disorder in New York City reached their horrifying zenith. In 1990, 2,245 people were murdered in the city, one factor among many that earned Dinkins the reputation as the most feckless man ever to occupy City Hall. (Only recently has a challenger emerged.)

Now stepping up to be similarly punished are the voters of Los Angeles County, who in their wisdom have installed George Gascón as district attorney. Gascón is the latest of the so-called social justice prosecutors to win election in some of America’s major cities, following in the path of Kim Foxx in Chicago, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, and Chesa Boudin in San Francisco.

George Gascón: D.A. and SJW.

Gascón was unabashed in embracing social justice themes during the campaign but gave little hint of the sweeping changes he would institute within minutes of taking office. He was officially sworn in at noon on Dec. 7, and at 12:03 p.m. that day an email was sent to all D.A. staff announcing the immediate implementation of nine new policies which go far beyond those he practiced in his former post as district attorney in San Francisco.

The cumulative effect of these policies will be threefold: fewer criminals will be sent to jail or prison; those who are imprisoned will serve shorter sentences; and many already convicted and behind bars will be released years before they might have been. Even some inmates now serving life without parole for murder will be allowed to petition for resentencing and even release under Gascón’s new guidelines.

In keeping with the Orwellian manipulation of the language so drearily common to the modern leftist, certain words will be excised from the vernacular of the courthouse in Los Angeles County. “Today,” begins Gascón’s Special Directive on Resentencing, “California prisons are filled with human beings charged, convicted and sentenced under prior District Attorneys’ policies.”

The jarring use of the term “human beings” is explained in a footnote: “We will seek to avoid using dehumanizing language such as ‘inmate,’ ‘prisoner,’ ‘criminal,’ or ‘offender’ when referencing incarcerated people.” One wonders how they will come to euphemize the term “crime victim,” the numbers of whom will surely surge in Los Angeles County before voters regain their senses and Gascón is ultimately turned out of office.

If only abuse of the language were the worst of it. The new policies are the stuff of a defense attorney’s fever dreams, as Gascón has in effect enacted a separate penal code for Los Angeles County, one of his own and his leftist enablers’ creation. He has vowed to ignore various provisions of California law and give those arrested on a variety of misdemeanor beefs a free pass. Charges of trespassing, driving without a license or with a suspended license, disturbing the peace, criminal threats, and even resisting arrest will be “declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions.” Non-specific exemptions will be allowed, but given the overall tenor of the policy such exceptions will of course be rare.

Hands up, eff off.

As disturbing as this might be, it pales in comparison to how more serious crimes will now be addressed. California has over the years enacted a number of sentencing enhancements covering particular circumstances in broader areas of crime. For example, someone convicted of robbery might have his sentence extended if he was armed with a weapon at the time of the crime. Like the underlying charges, each of these “special allegations” must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury or admitted by a defendant before a sentence can be enhanced.

Gascón has eliminated these special allegations, including those defined as “special circumstances” in murder cases that make defendants eligible for the death penalty or life without parole, or "LWOP" in courthouse shorthand. “Special Circumstances allegations” says the new policy, “resulting in an LWOP sentence shall not be filed, will not be used for sentencing, and shall be dismissed or withdrawn from the charging document.”

More troubling still is Gascón’s policy on the death penalty, which will no longer be sought even in the most heinous of murders. Consider this recent case: On Nov. 29, sheriff’s detectives allege, Maurice Taylor decapitated his 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, then for the next five days forced his two surviving younger sons, ages 8 and 9, to remain in the home and look at the mutilated bodies.

Under California law the crime would meet the definition of two special circumstances, to wit, multiple victims, and the fact that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity,” making Taylor eligible for a death sentence or life without parole. Who would argue he isn’t deserving at least of the latter? Gascón would. Under his new policies, Taylor will face a maximum sentence of 57 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole, and this assumes the imposition of consecutive rather than concurrent sentences.

The death penalty policy comes laden with footnotes citing academic studies purporting to show capital punishment is ineffective and rooted in racism. It is here that Gascón engages in some dishonest sleight of hand. He asserts on page 2 of the policy that “the death penalty serves no penological purpose as state sanctioned killings do not deter crime.”

The assertion is footnoted to a 1999 article, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates: The Views of Leading Criminologists,” by Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. Lacock, in which it is claimed, as stated in the footnote, that “88.2% of the polled criminologists do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent.” Whatever the actual evidence might be, a poll among academic criminologists, most of whom are ideologically opposed to the death penalty in any event, can hardly be said to be dispositive, especially given the paltry sample size of 76 people, a detail one only finds buried in an appendix. Yet Gascón presents this assertion as though it bore Delphic certitude.

Have a nice trip.

Taking the academic obfuscation a step further, the same footnote cites a 2012 study, “Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” by the National Research Council of the National Academies, which, the footnote claims, found that using a “deterrent effect as justification for capital punishment is ‘patently not credible’ based on meta-analysis of studies conducted.”

Again, this is not completely accurate. What the study actually says is more narrowly focused. “The homogeneous response restriction,” it says, “that the effects [of capital punishment] are the same for all states and all time periods seems patently not credible.” What’s more, the study explicitly states the available evidence is insufficient to determine the effect of capital punishment on homicide rates.

The Conclusion and Recommendation section of the study reads, in part: “consequently, claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment [emphasis added].” Despite this clear admonishment, Gascón dishonestly uses the study as support for his own preferred policy prescriptions.

The city of Los Angeles, by far the largest of L.A. County’s 88 municipalities, is already suffering from an increase in violent crime. Homicides investigated by the LAPD are up by 29 percent over last year, and late November saw the city’s 300th murder victim, a benchmark not seen in ten years. If Gascón’s social justice methods are effective, surely this trend will reverse itself quickly.

There is little reason to suppose this will happen, however, as evidenced by those cities where social justice prosecutors already hold office. In Chicago, where Kim Foxx has been elected to a second term and her policies are well established, homicides are up 55 percent from last year. In Larry Krasner’s Philadelphia, homicides are up 38 percent, and in Chesa Boudin’s San Francisco they’re up 39 percent.

Why is this man smiling?

As should be obvious to all by now, the appending of an adjective to the word “justice,” whether it be social, environmental, economic, or what have you, signals in the user a desire not for actual justice, but rather some bastardized version of it suited to whichever favored group does the appending. George Gascón embodies social justice on stilts, and he owes no small measure of his success to handful of well-heeled leftist donors. George Soros leads the list, with reported contributions to Gascón totaling $2.25 million.

Like Soros, none of Gascón’s other deep-pocketed supporters lives in Los Angeles and will suffer none of the bloody consequences they’ve helped to bring about. How's that for justice?

 

The Thin Blue Line is Under Attack

And now it’s Philadelphia, which joins Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, Wisc. on the list of cities where routine police encounters have gone violently wrong, leading to days of rioting and chaos on the streets, all of which, we are endlessly assured by our sophisticated betters in the media, meets the ever more capacious definition of “mostly peaceful protests.”

On its face, the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia should not be controversial. Police were called to Wallace’s home for a domestic disturbance, and when he defied orders to drop the knife he was holding and advanced on two police officers – who had already retreated from the sidewalk into the street – they opened fire, an outcome to be expected in a rational world. But this is not a rational world, and in no milieu is it less so than in the realm of police encounters with black men.

There has arisen in certain quarters the preposterous notion that someone facing arrest has the right to resist an officer’s efforts – even to the point of assaulting him with a deadly weapon – and still expect an injury-free apprehension. Wallace appears to have shared this notion, as do the people “protesting” his death. Even Joe Biden, proving he can be just as uninformed about police work as he has been about everything else for 47 years, thinks police officers can shoot an attacker in the leg and somehow expect to survive the encounter.

Old-fashioned detective work may soon be a lost art.

How long can this continue? How long can we ask police officers to venture into America’s inner cities and combat crime while placing upon them these unreasonable expectations? And finally, who wants to be a police officer at all under these circumstances?

Raymond Chandler, the creator of the fictional detective Philip Marlowe, said it best: 

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it.

Whenever some heinous crime occurs, one that rises above the ordinary daily American mayhem to shock the nation’s conscience, we remain anxious and unsettled until an arrest is made, even if we have no direct connection to the victim. Last July, for example, who could help but be horrified by the video of Anthony Robinson being gunned down while walking hand-in-hand with his seven-year-old daughter on a Bronx street corner?

We take it on faith that the perpetrators of such crimes will be identified and arrested, and indeed we found some measure of comfort when, less than two weeks later, three men were arrested and charged with Robinson’s murder. But what if there came a time when we could not have that faith, a time when we had no choice but to resign ourselves to seeing this kind of savagery go unpunished?

That day is coming, and soon.

The Robinson shooting was captured on video, which quite naturally raised public expectations that the killers would be apprehended. The police would find the car shown in the video, it was assumed, then they would find the killers. Easy, right? Just like on television.

The reality was not so simple. Finding the killers required the practice of what soon may be a lost art: old-fashioned detective work. And detective work in its turn demands the mastery of a number of interrelated fields, including forensic science and video technology. But far more than technical knowledge, detective work requires talents much less easily conveyed in a classroom or a textbook.

The presence of DNA at a crime scene and video of the crime as it occurred are powerful evidence, certainly, but in the overall scheme of a criminal investigation they are all but useless until they can be woven into the fabric of the case by a skilled detective. And any criminal case, even one buttressed by the strongest forensic evidence, can collapse in the absence of someone adept at the most overlooked skill in police work: talking to people.

There might be a hundred witnesses to a murder, there might be video of the crime as it occurred, there might be every type of circumstantial evidence tying a given suspect to the crime, but to secure a conviction it all must be tied together by a detective who can walk into an interview room and elicit the truth from people who in many cases would prefer to keep it hidden.

And that same detective, after having assembled the case and secured a criminal filing, must then be able to take the witness stand and persuade a jury that the man seated over there in the defendant’s chair is guilty as charged.

Tough even without a gun.

But where do we find such detectives? They come from the ranks of street cops, of course, men and women who learn, while riding in a radio car or walking a foot beat, how to talk to the parties involved in crimes – victims, witnesses, and suspects – according to each the appropriate level of skepticism, which may approach but never reaches zero.

It has been my experience, after nearly 40 years in the trade, that the best cops, those who do most of the heavy lifting in any police department, would have found equal success in any other field they might have chosen, but they were drawn to police work not merely as a job or even a career, but rather as a vocation. Today that vocation is threatened by the corrosive politics of the Left, which would hold that the police are not a remedy to crime and disorder but rather the very cause of it.

The undermining of law enforcement has been a goal of the Left for decades, and the campaign has achieved varying levels of success over the years. But with the death of George Floyd last May, the assault on police legitimacy has accelerated beyond anything seen before. A February 2020 article at City Journal lamented what was already a police recruiting crisis, but that crisis has now grown even more dire. Worse than a lack of candidates applying for the job is the accelerated flight of tenured officers from some police departments. In Seattle, for example, the problem is finely drawn: more officers left the city’s police force in the first nine months of this year than did all of last year or in 2018.

Not coincidentally, as the number of police officers decreases, and as those who remain on the job grow more apprehensive about making arrests lest they find themselves fired or prosecuted should an incident go awry, crime has increased across the country. Violent crime has risen in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Baltimore, and most other cities you can name, including, yes, Philadelphia, where homicides are up 44 percent from the same time last year. Sadly, few people with the authority to do anything about it seem willing to speak honestly about the problem, as evidenced by Joe Biden's fatuous instruction that cops shoot attackers in the legs.

The world needs people like those Raymond Chandler described, but it may soon find them in short supply. Someday, when the carnage has not been abated by the legions of social workers now proposed, when the bloodshed has grown intolerable even to those who today ignore or rationalize it, people will once again look to the police to solve the problem. But when that day comes, the pool of accumulated wisdom that has been passed from generation to generation of street cops and detectives will have evaporated for lack of use. “Please,” some mayor will implore his police chief, “do something about the crime.”

And the chief will shrug his shoulders and say, “We don’t know how.”