To the Editor: I am a former chief of police of Savannah, Georgia, and I hold a Ph.D. in social…
To the Editor:
I am a former chief of police of Savannah, Georgia, and I hold a Ph.D. in social science from Michigan State. No big deal in themselves, but I believe they indicate I may know a little something about crime, criminals, and police behavior. William Tucker’s article [“Is Police Brutality the Problem?,” January] contains many anecdotal verities, but its tone and implied solution to the problem of violent crime negate any overall seriousness it may aspire to. Yes, police brutality, police discourtesy, police misbehavior are problems, but they are not epidemic problems, while false accusations against the police are precisely that in many urban areas. Because of this fact police are often and, I believe, increasingly reluctant to take action lest they be saddled with career-threatening accusations.
Where Mr. Tucker is wrong is in his premise that police inaction acts as a catalyst for violent crime in the black ghetto. Come on! Violent crime in the inner cities is generated to a very large extent by the social disintegration of large segments of the black community. It is scarcely hindered by a criminal-justice system which can put away only a minor percentage of even the most violent criminals and cannot keep that percentage off the streets for any significant length of time. The most fearless police force in the world cannot remove those obstacles to public safety.
Further, the crisis in both public confidence in the police and police confidence in the backing they are likely to get from the public can be solved only by competent and courageous police leadership. Such police chiefs, and there are many out there, can instill discipline in the force and punish police malefactors while backing their officers against unjust accusations.
Courageous chiefs also talk back to political and racist demagogues, and competent chiefs frequently win the verbal battle. They do so without giving either the police or the public (both black and white) even the slightest hint that the only thing needed to hold back the very real forces of violence in the city is an unleashed police. The best top cops are used to the hysterical and political smoke-blowing of false accusations and are able and willing to confront them. They are also used to the demands that the police be allowed to club and shoot the violent back into a mode of civilized behavior, and they ignore them.
Competent and responsible police executives do not want or need the support of people like Mr. Tucker whose rhetoric does more than border on the demagogic. As a simple Southern chief of police, I clearly smell the odor of racism in this article. I’ve been there before.
David G. Epstein