A Surge in Crappy Policiing

I’ve blogged time and again about violence in gentrifying neighborhoods, which is one of the chief themes of crime in Atlanta. East Atlanta has been the center of this in recent months—see the second of those two links for specifics—and recently, the police held a press conference where they talked about how they were stepping up patrols in an effort to catch some of the perpetrators.

Now we have some of the results of this surge, and they’re superficially pretty:

DeKalb County’s police chief says his department is taking action against a recent string of crime in the area. Chief Cedric Alexander says the department is seeing results from a recent surge of police activity… In eight days, DeKalb police say the teams have made 75 arrests and written 105 citations. In all, crime in the area had been reduced by 42 percent.

Well, that sounds great: let’s get these punks off the streets. It’s well-attested, though probably rather exaggerated, that crime goes up in the summertime, because teenage punks are out of school and bored.

But upon closer examination, it’s unclear whether we’re any safer:

“For me as a police chief, it’s very troubling. For me as a citizen of the county, it’s very troubling. For myself as a psychologist, it’s very troubling,” Alexander said. “So on a very number of veins, I find it very and I’m very much concerned because these are young kids that are out there unsupervised that we arrest over and over and over. And we find ourselves re-arresting them and find ourselves sending them back the street sometime before we get back out there.”

Kind of cool that the police chief is a psychologist: this might make for interesting fiction. But read what the man says: if his cops are arresting the same kids over and over, then what they aren’t doing is arresting the kids for anything important. If these kids were guilty of, or even chargeable with, major crimes like murder or strong-arm robberies, even as kids they wouldn’t be released to be rearrested—they’d be in custody.

So what we know is that these kids aren’t doing anything really harmful. I’m going to guess traffic issues, maybe as far as suspended or nonexistent licenses; graffiti; underage drinking; maybe some minor weapon possession like jackknives. And, of course, weed. Black kids (and in this part of DeKalb County, it’s a certainty that the kids are black) smoke weed at about the same level as their white peers, but are much, much more likely to be arrested for it, and much more likely to be treated as criminals instead of good kids in trouble.

So this “surge” resulted in some probably pretty high percentage of 75 arrests being for weed, and into the system those kids go, up until now just bored, and now essentially barred from meaningful employment, which in my more cynical moments I feel is the primary purpose of the War on Some Drugs. And are we safer? Get real. These cops can’t even find the criminals who are so dumb they get caught on camera:

Decatur police hope new surveillance pictures will help solve one recent robbery and perhaps others.

Investigators are scrambling to solve a string of crimes in the area this month.

Police say the two men seen in the photos are suspects in a July 6 robbery on New Street in Decatur.

According to investigators, the two drove away in a stolen Mercedes after confronting a woman while she worked in a building, stealing her purse and a laptop computer.

Police believe the two men and a third suspect are tied to other robberies in DeKalb County.

Technically, Decatur, while in DeKalb County, has its own police force. But the point remains: police “surges” catch a lot of little fish, but it takes real work to catch the ones who really do us some harm.

 

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