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Law & Order: How Much Force Should Police Employ?

The recent chaotic appearance by Mayor Bowser in Southeast to publicly address the epidemic of gun violence in the city, largely in the poorer neighborhoods where jobs and services and amenities are seriously lacking, turned out to be a debacle of the first order. The crowd that joined with the press to (hopefully) hear from the Mayor an announcement of a real plan to deal with this was extremely disappointed, as was evidenced by the frustration that clearly boiled over.

Bowser informed the crowd that her plan is not “about arresting black men . . . but [about] how we can save their lives.” So far, so good. But, right after issuing that assurance, she revealed her plan that, as the highly respected long-time and insightful Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wrote, she “contradicted nearly everything she had just said.” What Milloy was struck by was her emphasis on putting more officers on the streets, giving them increased search and seizure authority and increased spending for things like GPS tracking and surveillance cameras.

But nothing about reaching beyond the obvious to find and employ more innovative approaches that could lead to an awakening of new attitudes and a lessening of despair so prevalent in those communities where prospects for decent jobs and fulfilling lives are absent.

Is calling for an approach that isn’t all about batons and worse along with police state-like technology naïve, “pie-in-the-sky” leftie nonsense or is there actual practicality leading to beneficial results?

Maybe so. We were much heartened by what Courtland Milloy reported in his column about what he heard from Erika Totten, one of the many attending who was wearing a “Black Lives Matter” tee-shirt:

“[She] thought the District could try something similar to the homicide reduction plan in the Northern California city of Richmond. After identifying youths and young adults who were linchpins in the city’s cycle of killing, Richmond paid them a monthly stipend of $300 to $1,000 to follow individually designed therapeutic education and job training programs for 18 months.

“That’s a drop in the bucket when you consider the cost of a single homicide. According to a study published in a 2010 edition of the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, the average cost per murder tops $17 million — when factoring in a variety economic impacts such as autopsies, police investigations, prosecution, incarceration and loss of lifetime earnings and family support.

“In Richmond, the result has been a 77 percent drop in homicides, from 47 in 2007 to 11 in 2014, according to city officials, not to mention more young black men in college and gainfully employed.”

We think this initiative that seems to be so successful in California, along with other similar ones (if there are any) ought to be seriously studied by the Mayor’s office, relevant DC agencies, and especially the City Council’s judiciary committee which has oversight jurisdiction for public safety matters.

And, in approaching this “assignment” that we urge be taken up, the bureaucrats and politicians ought deeply consider the question, reported by Milloy, that Erika Totten posed to him: “Why does DC always have to be so small-minded, thinking that it takes police to make a community safe?”

Excellent question indeed and it would be our hope that the question not be brushed aside.

Maybe we are not being fair to the Mayor. After all, she did state that her plan does not call for “unfettered authority to basically search anyone, anytime, anywhere.” The also stated that the plan includes “a neighborhood-focused approach that expands the community stabilization” with grants to “accountable community organizations” and to “trusted, effective individual community members who join us.” Pretty vague and, frankly, sounds like the usual DC spreading around the cash to the political buddies. We would be more impressed if the Mayor had offered actual details to show how this would be different from the same old way of doing business in DC.

We join with Courtland Milloy in observing that “the reality [is] she had no plan.”

Now, we don’t want to leave our readers with the impression that MPD officers are of the shoot first, ask questions later school of maintaining law and order as in other cities –- Baltimore and Cleveland come to mind. In fact, we cannot think of cases where MPD officers were in the habit of misusing their weapons by needlessly brandishing guns in the manner we’ve seen in the recent video shown on TV of a policeman –- not from around here — who was with others called to bring order at a pool party being crashed by teens who had not been invited.

Thankfully, our police department and its officers is vastly more professional than what we have seen elsewhere. But the department cannot alone fix the huge underlying problems that lead to all this gun violence. And neither is the answer just getting guns off the streets given that we are surrounded by states where getting guns is so easy and from where they so easily cross a bridge or even a street to immediately be inside our city.