Politicians, stop scapegoating cops and let them do their jobs

An executive order signed by Biden last week would stretch police departments thin and overburden them in the line of duty.

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New police officers are sworn in at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony on October 20, 2021 in Chicago,

New police officers are sworn in at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony on Oct. 20, 2021 in Chicago,

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Chicago is suffering from a historic wave of violent crime, yet some elected officials continue to pour gas on the fire with their misguided rhetoric and policies.

Last year, Chicago witnessed a quarter-century high in homicides, a 60% increase from just two years prior. The Memorial Day weekend saw the most shootings in five years in the city. But rather than providing resources and assistance to those responsible for mitigating this crisis — the police — some elected officials have chosen to scapegoat and castigate their law enforcement officers. 

Many within the Democratic Party continue to expound “defund the police” rhetoric, which has left police officers alienated and fatigued, resulting in en masse retirements.

In Chicago alone, 1,343 sworn officers have left the department since May 2020.

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To his credit, President Joe Biden has stood against these peripheral influences by consistently disavowing the “defund” premise. Yet, actions speak louder than words, and an executive order signed by Biden last week would stretch police departments thin and overburden them in the line of duty. While some elements within this sweeping order will be a welcome change, much of it supports a strategy that Biden himself has denounced.

Efforts to reduce the prison population through “catch and release”-style programs will add more violence to the streets our law enforcement already struggle to protect. Steps to demilitarize policing by restricting the transfer of military equipment, while necessary to a certain extent, would allow officers to be overpowered by criminals currently in our communities. Meanwhile, an unprecedented accountability database on misconduct cases has the potential to contribute to unfair attitudes towards law enforcement and end up encouraging more waves of retirements.

Adding to the responsibilities of a shrinking police force with finite budgets is, in essence, a de facto budget cut. 

Worse, these policies will be enacted alongside a recent proposal by the Food and Drug Administration to ban menthol cigarettes, which would have profound unintended consequences for Chicago. As past forms of prohibition have shown, a menthol ban would empower an illicit market and stoke violence in our most vulnerable communities. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, crack cocaine ravaged our inner-city streets, and a federal ban did little to solve our problems then.

During my 32-year career in law enforcement, I’ve seen how illicit markets can uproot communities and spread violence, but a menthol ban would have consequences beyond an illicit market.

This policy could easily lead law enforcement to over-police minor crimes, stretching our already limited resources and increasing community friction in vulnerable neighborhoods that need our support most. The proposed ban would not target people on the street for buying or selling menthol cigarettes — but, based on all my years of policing, I can say that if a law is passed, people will call police when they see the law is being broken and cause officers to be dispatched and engage citizens needlessly.

We don’t need policies that create more harsh realities for police, something that those behind “defund the police” rhetoric envision. Instead, we need to look to solutions grounded in reality, like funding mental health facilities and fully investing in pre-school education and all forms of higher learning, including trade schools.

Meanwhile, police departments nationwide need to be funded to conduct extensive vetting during the background investigations on those who apply to become police officers. Yet the Biden administration is busy pursuing what critics have described as discriminatory nuisance policies without considering its potential impact on crime and enforcement. 

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These federal attacks against our police will only serve to further restrict local law enforcement’s ability to protect our communities. And by coinciding this executive order with a proposed menthol ban, Biden will have secured a major victory for the “defund the police” camp he has worked to distance himself from.

During these difficult times, Chicago desperately needs strong leadership to support smart, common-sense policies that empower our law enforcement to do their job and protect our communities. Our federal government cannot continue to fall victim to destructive, toxic rhetoric driven by anti-police special interests that lead to knee-jerk reactionary policies. Their actions stand as a direct barrier to solving the violent crime crisis in Chicago.

My message to the White House and Congress is clear — to bring peace and order back to our city, let those tasked with protecting it do their jobs.

There was a time when parties with different views talked, listened, and negotiated as was intended. Back then, good things happened.

Anthony Carothers is a retired police commander who served 28 years in the Chicago Police Department and four years with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

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