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A Dark Future for Law Enforcement? Inside the ‘Ferguson Effect’

Some in law enforcement call it “The Ferguson Effect.” It’s the growing animosity between police and the communities they serve.

With law enforcement officers under intense scrutiny both on and off duty and a spike in violence against men and women in blue, many cops across the nation are thinking twice about the way they do their jobs.

Joe Collins is one of them. He’s a husband and father of two boys who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. He’s a veteran of both the Marines and the U.S. Army.  He’s seen plenty of combat.

“Our fire team and our vehicle was hit 11 times by IEDs,” Collins said of his time in Iraq. “Our company was hit approximately 150 times and we found, maybe, probably the same amount as that so they either found us or we found them first, depending.”

The Line of Duty

When Collins returned from Iraq, he was looking for the same type of brotherhood he had in the military. And law enforcement seemed like a good fit. But after 14 years with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Collins said police work is not what it used to be.

“It’s getting worse. It’s getting more dangerous for the men in brown and blue and whatever uniform they wear,”  Collins said.

Police work has always been a tough job, and sometimes cops go too far. But violence against the police is rising.

So far in 2016, officer deaths by shooting are up 300 percent from the previous year, with a marked increase in ambush-style attacks.

In February, police woman Ashley Guindon was murdered responding to a domestic disturbance in Virginia. It was her first day on the job. She was the tenth officer to die in the line of duty that month.

Cell phones and surveillance cameras are everywhere, and that takes a toll on law enforcement as well. Many cops today fear their next call could end up as a viral video, possibly ending their career or even their life.

“There is certainly some hesitation, and I’m a firm believer that hesitation will get you killed,” Mike Cowan, a SWAT officer in Mississippi, said. “There’s certainly a willingness to let things slide, maybe a little more — because it’s not worth the paperwork, it’s not worth the issues, it’s not worth having to try and explain yourself because people don’t feel like they have the administration’s backing or they are concerned at what the press is going do to with it.”

A ‘Chilling Effect’

Michael Wood agreed. He’s an author and contributor to the website PoliceOne.com.

“I think there’s a degree of difference in the lack of support that officers are getting today compared to what their grandfathers had several generations before,” Wood told CBN News.

“It has a chilling effect on these officers when they realize that if they do their job that they are going to be vilified in the media and they are not going to be supported by their agencies… and they are not going to do their job as vigorously as they might have before,” he said.

“When you talk about these nationwide events and all the press that they’ve gotten, one of the things that seems to get lost on the media is that these guys were criminals, and they were resisting law enforcement,” Cowan said.

“An officer these days who is worried about a lack of support from his mayor, a lack of support from his own police leadership chain, a lack of support from the public that he polices is not going to stick his neck out and put himself into risky situations that could jeopardize his own safety, his partner’s safety and their professional careers,” Wood added.

“I would venture to say that the large percentage of law enforcement as a whole across the nation has that very feeling,” Collins observed. “I think they are very frustrated. I think the trust from their government, from their own chain of command… they’ve got to wonder if it’s there.”

“And I can’t tell you how many cops in casual conversation just joking say, ‘You know what we ought to do is just take a couple weeks off. You don’t want us anymore? Let’s take a couple of weeks off and see how things work out for you,'” Cowan added.

Rising Tensions

The result is that tension on the streets is high. With violence rising, tactics and equipment that were developed by the military are now being used to make policing safer in the face of rising violence.

It’s a move many have criticized, including President Barack Obama, who recently said, “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people the feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that is part of the community that is protecting them and serving them.”

“Crime has gotten worse!” Collins said. “We need the tools, law enforcement needs the tools to be able to handle those situations.”

Police deaths in the line of duty have declined by about a third since the 1970s when they hit their peak. But that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.  Battlefield technologies developed in Iraq and Afghanistan have trickled down to police departments across the country and that means an officer involved in a shooting has a much better chance of survival than he did 40 years ago.

“The reality of law enforcement is that it’s the management of violence,” Wood explained. “Sometimes that violence is caused by a criminal; sometimes that violence is a violence that is properly managed by a law enforcement officer to take that violent criminal into custody.”

“But violence is ugly,” he continued. “And an American public that is not truly used to seeing that kind of violence and doesn’t understand that that type of violence is necessary to take somebody into custody recoils at it when they see it on a body camera that is worn by a police officer or a cell phone camera that is taken by a bystander.”

Dark Future for Law Enforcement?

“I truly fear for where law enforcement is going, their capabilities, how things are boiling over in society, in America,” Collins said.  “And with that law enforcement’s hands are being tied tighter and tighter and tighter.”

At the same time they are being subjected to increasing restrictions, cops are being asked to do more with less.

As Wood put it, “We want him to be an enforcer of the law. We want him to be an attorney, we want him to be a marriage counselor. We want him to be a peer counselor. We want him to be a father figure for somebody. We want him to be able to tell directions, at the same time that we want him to be able to shoot somebody to keep them from killing your family.”

“Let our officers do their jobs, for crying out loud,” Collins implored. “Start respecting the people who provide you the safety and security in your home at night!”

Report via CBN News



 

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