From Texas to Pennsylvania and Massachusetts to South Carolina, governors across the country are sending the cavalry to cities experiencing rising crime rates.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is the latest to act, sending Missouri Highway Patrol troopers to St. Louis to patrol the city’s highways for the first time in decades. The move — which has the full support of the city’s Democratic mayor — will free up police to concentrate on crime.
Greitens appeared with local clergy and law enforcement officers last month to announce his plan, citing a recent incident in which someone shot a driver in the head at 10:30 in the evening. It was one of five shooting deaths in St. Louis in a 48-hour period.
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“For too long, people have talked about this problem — and then they talked some more and talked and talked and talked,” he said. “Well, the time for talk is over. Today, we’ve come together to take action. The choice before us is clear: We can accept things as they are. Or we can resolve together to change them.”
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would use “all lawful means” to combat gang violence in Houston. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster promised “more boots on the ground” in Myrtle Beach. Delaware County, Pennsylvania, District Attorney Jack Whelan in May announced state police patrols as part of “Operation Safe Streets” in crime-ridden Chester. And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February agreed to supplement patrols by the 342-officer police force in Albany with 10 state troopers.
Not everyone is happy, though. Some progressives have grumbled that the increased manpower could strain race relations and threaten civil liberties.
“Until and unless we start talking about that, there is a concern we are going to get more of the same,” American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman told The Washington Post.
Alice Green, executive director of the Center for Law and Justice, told the Albany Times Union that the addition of state troopers to the city’s streets would “interfere” with her group’s efforts to change the “culture of policing.” She said troopers do not receive sufficient training in “implicit bias” and “procedural justice.”
Green told the paper that the state police presence could lead to higher prosecution rates of minorities.
“Community policing demands the community be involved in decisions on public safety,” she said.
Heather Mac Donald, a crime expert at the Manhattan Institute, said such responses are emblematic of a broader anti-police environment in recent years that is driving people away from the procession and encouraging current cops to pull back in their jobs.
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“We definitely have a manpower problem now in forces because recruitment has become almost impossible,” she said. “Nobody wants to become a police officer today when the first thing that he’s going to hear on the job is, ‘You’re a racist.’ You know, we have so stigmatized policing that people are saying, ‘no thank you.'”
Paul Larkin, a senior legal research fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, said criticisms on civil libertarian grounds — or complaints that traffic patrols by state troopers are a way to pump up revenue from traffic tickets — are unfounded.
“Anybody who makes that [argument] is utterly unaware of city life or adult life in America,” he said.
Larkin said deploying state troopers is a potentially smart strategy for cities reeling from sharp increases in murders and other violent crimes after more than two decades of steady declines.
“It can be, and it’s not a new idea,” he told LifeZette.
Adding law enforcement officers, said Larkin, can allow police supervisors to flood the zone in high-crime areas, in a practice known as “hot spots” policing.
“There are certain areas that may be more likely to be the location for crimes than others,” he said.
Larkin said that even in cities where state trooper presence is more limited, such as St. Louis, their deployment has value beyond freeing local police to cover more ground in high-crime neighborhoods.
“If state police see or get a radio report about a crime, they’re gonna get involved, too,” he said.
William Otis, a former federal prosecutor who now is an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center, argued that having to ask for help from state leaders represents a failing in the most basic responsibility of any city.
“The first obligation of elected local leaders is to protect the lives and property of the citizens who put them in office,” he wrote in an email to LifeZette. “If they cannot fulfill that core function, and have to outsource it to the state, that per se is a confession of failure too stark easily to capture in words.”
(photo credit, article image: pasa, Flickr)