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.