America’s cops are fed up.
They say they have been defunded, scapegoated as violent racists, vilified for the mistakes of a few rogue officers and challenged by sharp increases in shootings and homicides.
Now some are pushing back in a way they never expected: by walking off the job to run for elected office.
More than 100 current or former police officers are on ballots this year for federal, state and local offices. Nearly all are running as Republicans.
The officers, some who have never before run for office, call the movement “the common-sense wave.”
“There has been a war waged against law enforcement by Democrats and the far left, and those of us who have worn the uniform, those of us that have respected law enforcement our entire lives, just can’t sit back anymore,” said Anthony D’Esposito, a former New York Police Department detective who is running to represent a portion of Nassau County in Congress.
The officers running for elected office have largely paralleled the Republican Party’s broader strategy of labeling Democrats as soft on crime. Republicans think the argument will win them control of the House and Senate while the nation is awash in violent crime.
Alison Esposito, a former NYPD deputy inspector, retired this summer after 25 years on the job. She is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of New York alongside Rep. Lee Zeldin, the party’s nominee for governor.
The second-generation cop had stints in plainclothes and anti-gang units before rising to become the commanding officer of Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct.
Ms. Esposito never thought about jumping into politics, but she couldn’t sit on the sidelines after witnessing firsthand New York’s post-pandemic crime surge.
“I never wanted to retire, but I was watching the city that I love in turmoil, and I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat and wearing the wrong hat to effect the type of change New York so desperately needs,” Ms. Esposito said.
Across the nation, former police officers are rising up to voice concerns of their brothers and sisters in the halls of government. They say their voices are desperately needed to drown out anti-police rhetoric.
The former officers say their law enforcement backgrounds lend potent arguments to voters when homicide rates in nearly two dozen cities are roughly 40% higher than they were before the pandemic, according to the Council on Criminal Justice. The officers say they have witnessed how less-stringent criminal justice policies have sparked the violence.
Former cops are on ballots in all kinds of races across the country, but their campaigns are largely similar. Most are running as Republicans with a law-and-order platform seeking to unseat Democratic incumbents.
In Virginia, former police officer and sheriff Yesli Vega is campaigning against Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat.
La’Ron Singletary, a former police chief in Rochester, New York, resigned from the force to challenge Rep. Joseph Morelle, a Democrat.
So many officers in suburban Pittsburgh are pursuing local positions, including school board and district justice, that it sparked a debate about a state law banning civil servants from holding office.
“This is not a red wave or a blue wave. It is a common-sense wave,” Ms. Esposito said. “It is people who never ran for office before standing up and saying, ‘Enough.’ Freedom and public safety and security are on the ballot, and so is common sense.”
NEW YORK EPICENTER
New York state appears to be the epicenter of this trend. At least 11 former police officers and five immediate family members of current officers are running for state and federal positions. Another two mounted campaigns this year but were eliminated in their primary races.
New York state legislators in recent years have approved a series of bills aimed at reducing jail and prison populations, including laws eliminating cash bail for low-level nonviolent crimes such as arson, robbery, burglary and drug offenses.
The Republican former cops have hammered the legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, over bail reform. They say too many criminals have been released only to commit more severe offenses.
Statistics released Sept. 21 by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services did little to appease either side.
The data showed that monthly rearrest rates statewide rose sharply starting in late 2019 when judges began applying bail reform.
Statistics released Aug. 3 by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, concluded that burglary suspects arrested on other felony charges within 60 days jumped to 25.1% this year, compared with 7.7% in 2017. That works out to roughly 373 people rearrested this year by the NYPD.
Other crimes deemed to be low level for cashless bail also showed marked increases in rearrest rates. Felony rearrests for defendants accused of grand larceny jumped to 16.8% this year from 6.5% in 2017. Felony rearrests on shoplifting charges rose to 21.2% in 2022, compared with 8.1% in 2017.
Democrats said Mr. Adams’ numbers don’t indicate how many of those were assigned bail. Instead, they point to data from the New York State Unified Court System, which suggests that people released without bail reoffend at the same rate as those held on bail.
Those numbers show that an average of 9.6% of people arraigned on misdemeanor charges statewide have reoffended since 2020. Of that total, 7% were charged with nonviolent felonies and 2.6% were rearrested and charged with violent felonies.
“I think there is, obviously, disagreement on the numbers, but common sense says this increase in crime, the increase in violent crime, is directly tied to bail reform,” said Scott Marciszewski, a retired police officer running as a Republican for a New York State Assembly seat representing suburban Buffalo. “The criminals know when they are apprehended there will be no accountability.”
When he knocks on doors, he said, all voters want to talk about is “crime, crime, crime.”
Mr. Marciszewski pointed to nearby Kenmore, New York, which recorded its first homicide in years. He said the town was nicknamed “Mayberry” in reference to the quaint town that served as the setting for “The Andy Griffith Show.”
If elected, Mr. Marciszeski said, his first goal will be to repeal New York’s cashless bail laws.
CANDIDATES DOVETAIL WITH REPUBLICAN STRATEGY
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week found that 56% of voters said they trust Republicans more to handle crime, while 34% said they trust Democrats more on the issue.
The former officers are seizing on that gap on the campaign trail, where they highlight incidents of violence and horrifying crimes.
At a press conference last month, Ms. Esposito and Mr. Zeldin detailed the story of Scott Saracina, who was released without bail in February on charges of harassing and stalking a woman. He was rearrested in August on charges of abducting and raping a woman.
During the first three weeks of September, Republican candidates across the country aired 53,000 commercials on crime, according to data from AdImpact, which tracks political messaging on television.
Crime has long been a political liability for Democrats, and Republican messaging has put them on the defensive. Several top Democrats have scrambled to distance themselves from the defund-the-police movement. Even President Biden has called for more cops on the streets.
At the same time, the emphasis on crime has sparked criticism that the officers are single-issue candidates avoiding tougher political fights on issues such as inflation and abortion. The officers strongly reject such criticism.
“I don’t know a single former police officer that is running a single-issue candidacy,” said James Coll, a retired NYPD detective running for New York state Senate. “They are campaigning on issues across the board from high taxes to COVID restrictions to state budgets that spend money on things that we don’t need.”