No, You Don’t Have to Take Sides in the War On Police

The Philadelphia Police has problems.  Lots of problems.  So many problems.

People are now freaking out over a police corporal who has a confederate flag decal on his personal vehicle.  This prompted Rochelle Bilal, the prez of the Guardian Civic League, the black police officer’s association, to hold a presser.

Bilal’s presser relaying the complaints she has received is completely justified and welcome.  But the PPD is so problematic that even Bilal herself has scandal attached her.  She was caught double-dipping for a bankrupt boro just outside Philadelphia.

In this piece by Ernest Owens, he calls out some terrible remarks by FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby at a rally held at FOP headquarters.   This was an unforced error on McNesby’s part, due to the antics of Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif holding a flash protest in front of a police officer’s home.  He then goes further and opens an umbrella over all politicians who have accepted FOP support recently.

Even if McNesby was able to get 2,000 people to attend his rally, one sentence uttered into a microphone helped dig the grave of public trust just a few feet deeper that night.  Police reform activists now have everything they need to justify their activism.

Political isolation

The Philadelphia Police Department is driven into a corner and it’s mostly by its own making.

Progressive Democrats nationwide have staged a war on police in a quest to change policing culture.   The most successful aspect of that campaign is to push police unions out of politics.   Benevolent associations and police municipal unions are nearly completely disassociated from Democratic Party politics and have been booted from influence within Philadelphia.  It has raised the profile of progressive influence over traditional political machines.

Outside of Philadelphia in Trump Country it’s had the polar opposite effect.  Police unions of all types have become Republican backers.  It can be argued that if it wasn’t for their financial support and large number of friends and family members and associative networks, Trump would not have had the support he needed to become president.

That’s not to say that activists aren’t making mistakes.   They just blew a huge opportunity to get any police reform done and for that we’ll have three years of purgatory ahead of us until the next police contract.

Imagine a Philadelphia where public trust in policing is so eroded that everyday Philadelphians turn inimical towards cops.  If we aren’t already at that point, we’re just one step away from it.  If you take Owens’ advice, any candidate for office who accepts FOP money is toxic waste.  That would include Mayor Kenney, who the FOP backed in 2015.

Progressives are certainly excited over the candidate for District Attorney Larry Krasner who capitalized on his bad relationship with police as a selling point of his campaign.   If successful beyond the DA’s race, the replacement of pols with moderate temperament in between the debate on police reform could be switched out for folks who are inimical to police in general.   That may produce reform or it could trigger a disastrous backlash.   I’ll explain.

You still need cops to have a safe neighborhood

A lot of Philadelphians firmly believe a falsehood that crime is just some random bullshit that happens to you and neither you nor anyone else has much if any control over it.  While it certainly feels that way, the city has been enjoying a long period of crime levels slowly decreasing thanks in part to redevelopment efforts and community engagement.

This war that progressives have chosen to wage against cops is not going to be free of consequences.  Police certainly do not have to engage neighborhoods.   “Community policing,” as it is known, is the idea that residents in police districts can become partners with police brass to help solve crimes and dissuade others from happening.  I don’t see how the Philadelphia Police will be able to have successful community engagement in neighborhoods where nearly everyone hates them and distrust is so thick you can taste it.

I am a firm believer community policing works because my own neighborhood I live in is deeply engaged with police and has constant contact with it whereas a decade ago it did not.  When combined with the effects of gentrification, violative crimes have been cut by half.

The worst thing that could happen to communities who do have a close relationship with police is to degrade to what police call a “radio district”, where patrols are thin and cops only respond to incidents assigned by dispatchers in a queue.

This was the Philadelphia of the 1980s and 90s where high levels of crime gave black and brown people only one option to deal with it: leave.   The mass depopulation of North Philadelphia is a living testament to it.

Swaths of the city are already radio-only in a city where we’re always short of resources.    If cops themselves decide that disengagement is preferable to get through a shift and community engagement is no longer worth the trouble we will all take a hit.

The mayor and City Council have been completely ineffective at pushing for police reform.  They will also be inert at the response to rising levels of crime.  Just as they were when crime levels in Philadelphia were intolerably high.

Lifetime Philadelphia residents remember this period all too well.    If you’re a police reform activist I suggest you make the most of this period as best you can.  If crime levels turn in the opposite direction, support for your work can rapidly erode and more residents will be forced into picking sides, and they’ll side with cops.

Tread carefully.