President Trump took a lot of heat for using the word “carnage” in his inauguration speech.
But the word is all too accurate in many of America’s major cities. Once proud and productive cities, such as Detroit and New Orleans, have become dens of dependency, with generations hooked on welfare and despair.
The citizens of those cities are taking out their frustrations on each other at rates not seen in decades. In cities of 250,000 people or more, killings rose last year at the fastest pace in 25 years.
Chicago alone accounted for almost half the 14 percent increase in homicides in the nation’s 30 largest cities. The 762 murders recorded there last year marked a nearly 60 percent increase over 2015 and the highest total since the mid-1990s.
Yet Chicago, at 27.9 killings per 100,000 population, is only in the middle of the pack when it comes to murder in the big city. St. Louis, the murder capital of the nation since 2014, is nearly double that at 59.3 homicides per 100,000. Baltimore (51.2), Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland all rank higher than the Windy City.
Nor was Chicago alone in reporting a large increase of homicides. Killings in Louisville increased 40 percent in 2016 over 2015; Memphis saw a 59 percent hike and San Antonio homicides climbed 61 percent.
It’s getting so bad, multiple cities are pleading for the federal government to send help.
In Baltimore, the new mayor, Catherine Pugh, asked the FBI to assign agents to work with the city’s police department to help solve some of the more than 100 murders that already have occurred in the city this year – the fastest start for killing in Charm City in more than two decades.
It’s not that Baltimore police don’t know how to solve crimes. It’s that the leadership of the city have not stood by their officers, and the criminals have taken note.
When Freddie Gray died in a Baltimore police van in April 2015, the local chief prosecutor rushed to charge six officers in his death, only to see the charges fall apart, like her political career. Meanwhile the accused officers’ reputations and personal lives were left in ruins, cops there retreated and criminals have filled the void. With carnage.
With wary police understandably on their heels, homicides are on a record pace and summer, which “tends to be very violent in Baltimore,” according to the mayor’s own spokesman, is just around the corner.
Calling in the feds is serious business. As newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, most recently the U.S. Attorney in Baltimore, knows well, the FBI formula won’t involve much "soft" policing. The FBI is a capable machine, well equipped to collect intelligence, identify and prioritize offenders and criminal groups, and apply the range of techniques designed to disrupt and dismantle violent crime. We did it throughout my three decades in the organization.
But for those tools to be effective, they must be complimented by aggressive prosecution and meaningful incarceration. And that means going into communities and making clear those who perpetrate violent crimes will be caught and sent to prison for lengthy periods of time.
Police know where these neighborhoods are. In St. Louis, half the city’s homicides occur in just eight of its 79 neighborhoods, and one of those neighborhoods has nearly 300 killings per 100,000. In Chicago, five police districts, which include just 8 percent of the city’s population, account for nearly a third of its murders.
Many of these communities are predominately African-American. But, as recently defrocked Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy has pointed out, focusing on these communities is not racist, as Eric Holder’s DOJ would contend, but a commonsense approach to fighting crime where it occurs, in its most serious forms.
Eighteen months ago I spoke at a criminal justice reform event in New Orleans. I approached two NOPD officers patrolling near the event, in the French Quarter, and asked them about policing in that city, one of the many working under a DOJ consent decree and now one of the many where violent crime is rising.
One said, "If a person walked up and punched me in the face then ran, I would have to call a supervisor for permission to chase him. If I caught him and struggled with him before that permission, I would be the one in trouble.” He quickly added, "There's no future in this job. I'm quitting as soon as I get my degree."
Federal help to these dangerous cities is a stopgap measure. The FBI has its own investigative duties, and local communities should be righting their own law enforcement ships.
They need to invest in enough cops – and invest in their training, leaders, equipment, tools and tactics. Cities are failing because their leaders have failed to do this.
Combatting surging violent crime in Baltimore and Chicago and New Orleans is not about “Officer Friendly” community engagement. Limited federal resources aren’t designed for that.
This is about real law enforcement that gets violent criminals off the streets, limits the next wave of victims and turns desperate communities back to the good people who live in them. President Trump and his attorney general understand that.