- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

What with the War on Terrorism and anthrax scares and such-like, everyday policing has fallen out of the limelight. Yet the cops are still out there, life continues, and not all of the news is good. The problem is that people resist talking about race.
Because this column appears on my Web site, I get e-mail from cops from all over the country, including big cities and small departments in places no one has ever heard of. The racial dissension they talk about takes two forms.
First, the refusal to police and arrest blacks. This got a certain amount of national attention for a brief time and then faded from the newspapers. It's still there. What happened was that white officers, tired of being charged with racial-profiling racism, brutality and discrimination, simply stopped arresting blacks.
Their reasoning was that you can't be charged with racism for an arrest you didn't make. Why risk your career, they asked, to keep some drunk from driving in a neighborhood that isn't your own?
I got letter after letter from guys saying, Fred, we just aren't doing it. I still get letters. The problem hasn't gone away. It has just sunk back into obscurity. The mail comes from jurisdictions in California, from Nebraska, Indiana, New Jersey, upstate New York and on and on. Lots of letters come from Cincinnati.
In the Washington area, Prince George's County has been the almost exclusive source of really bitter mail on the subject. The other local, suburban departments, while suffering the usual minor tensions that seem to exist everywhere, do not produce a lot of angry letters and criticism of their chiefs.
The question is how this will play out over time. Maybe cops across the country will quietly go back to enforcing the law. Maybe they will fall into a routine of not enforcing it. Maybe some will go one way and others go the other.
It will not be a healthy thing, I think, if nonenforcement by race becomes an unmentioned part of the fabric of policing. It certainly won't make black neighborhoods any safer.
The second strand of racial dissension in my mail is hostility between black and white officers within departments. I can't attach hard numbers to it, and of course cops in departments that don't have the problem don't write me about it, so I just don't know how representative my mail is.
Still, a common assertion is that at least some departments are dividing on racial lines. One guy said his department actually, though informally, had parallel organizations for black and white cops, instead of the usual Fraternal Order of Police for both.
The unwillingness of white cops to arrest blacks in many jurisdictions accentuates the problem. This has got to be a tough situation for black cops. Those who write me say they want to apply the law regardless of color, which is exactly the right thing to do. They've got to know that doing this isn't safe for whites.
Affirmative action in promotions generates anger among whites, but this has been true for a long time. Whites say that high-scoring whites are passed over to promote low-scoring blacks. I have no way of checking this, but it has happened in big-city departments in the past, and led to lawsuits. Sometimes it's hard to know the truth.
Black cops in Washington have told me, perfectly sincerely, of anti-black discrimination in the MPD, though the force is predominantly black. White officers have told me of anti-white discrimination.
Both sides believe their version is true.
My impression, formed over a lot of years now of being around cops, is that things show no signs of getting better, and a lot of signs of getting worse. Some of this may be deceptive. Before the advent of the Internet, for example, I had no contact with departments across the nation.
To some extent I may just be hearing now of animosity that has always been there. But some of it is new the refusal to risk arresting blacks, for example.
If this turns out to be a passing fancy, fine. Otherwise, the question becomes what we can do about race and cops. A hostile atmosphere on the job won't attract good people of either race, and good people are the most important asset a department can have.
What now? Where do we go from here? In all likelihood we will do nothing while pretending the problem doesn't exist. Not too useful.


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