Local law enforcement and city officials voiced collective frustration Wednesday with a convergence of social ills, including an erosion of public support for police, that is driving dramatic increases in violent crime in some pockets of the U.S.
Entrenched poverty, the explosion of heroin addiction and easy access to firearms also were recurring themes at a gathering involving representatives of more than 20 cities called by Attorney General Loretta Lynch to re-focus attention on what she described as the “devastating effects of crime across the country,” even as violence in much of the nation has continued to decline.
“These are not just communities, these are neighborhoods, neighbors, people we know,” Lynch said, referring to some cities where fatal shootings and other murders have already far eclipsed totals from last year.
Among the delegates were representatives of Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee — cities all struggling with persistent surges in violence that are testing communities’ capacities to respond.
“We also cannot avert our gaze from the fact that police in cities feel like they are not being supported by the federal government,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, referring to a recent federal focus on the operations of more than 20 police agencies in recent years prompted by allegations of officer misconduct. “Right now, officers feel like they are being defined by everything they are working against.”
In Milwaukee, where murder is up 80% over last year to 115 killing so far this year, Flynn said officers are confronting both the crime problem and are working to shake a perception that they cannot be trusted. It is a view, he said, that is being driven by dramatic videos of police encounters involving agencies with no connection to Milwaukee.
“Every incident, regardless of where it happens, they are made to feel they must answer for,” the chief said. “It’s hurting them. National policing policy is being driven by random YouTube videos.”
In St. Louis, where murders are up 60% to 155 this year, Mayor Francis Slay said the city’s problems are similar to other communities struggling against rising violence, including the scourge of heroin addiction.
Slay said city leaders who gathered here Wednesday talked about heroin in the same way authorities grappled in the 1980s and 1990s with cocaine addiction that fueled a historic U.S. crime wave.
Source: USA Today | Kevin Johnson