About a week ago, PNJ reported on the arrests made during Spring Break 2019, March 4-24 on Pensacola Beach. Chip Simmons claims that residents of Santa Rosa Island asked for more intervention this Spring Break. The ECSO seems remarkably proud of the 42 arrests made during this time. But do arrests mean less crime?
Aggressive policing, sometimes called Zero Tolerance Policing, usually does nothing to decrease crime overall. Let’s consider that the number of arrests directly affects the number of cases in the court system. The Public Defender’s office recently released that they are out of money. So is it really wise to push more cases through a system that is bankrupt. I would love to see that end up being not prosecuted because they were bad arrests.
I know from my own formal education in criminology, that aggressive arrests are a sign of inexperienced policing. Even knowing that academically, I discussed this principle at length with 2 veteran ECSO officers who concurred by saying that if they are doing their jobs correctly, there are very few arrests. It is about deterrence is the name of the game. The perception of the increased likelihood of getting caught is more effective to decrease criminal activity. Some calls only require contact without arrests; other calls require verbal warnings or citations; very few require arrests. The consensus is clear that bragging about 42 arrests is boasting about the weakness of the agency.
The exact breakdown according to the PNJ are as follows:
Total service calls: 1,193
Uniform traffic citations: 121
Notices to appear: 17
Total arrests: 42
The arrests breakdown is as follows:
4 disorderly conduct
1 child abuse
11 traffic (including 6 DUIs)
Of these 42, I would venture to say 2/3 will be “nolle proseqi” or not prosecuted due to problems with the cases. The people most affected by the this type of policing are lower income, minorities who cannot sufficiently defend themselves in the system. It also lowers the public confidence in relations between police and the community. While, in this case, the residents of the beach felt safer, the minorities and others in the community caught up in the arrests, will be negatively biased due to these encounters with police. The higher income groups have less negative beliefs about police in general. The converse is true of lower income groups; they have more anxiety, apprehension, and mistrust of police and these tactics only reinforces that creating more issues down the line.
In writing this blog post, I asked a seasoned officer for his two cents. This is what he said:
One problem with zero tolerance policing is that it can cause officers to make weak arrests. Taking discretion from the officer will create conflict with common sense solutions. An arrest is an admission of failure. An arrest indicates that all the efforts in place to avoid law violations have fallen short of the goal. The government was not successful with deterring law violations by legislation of laws. Law enforcement presence failed when the violation of law occurred. The system in place to maintain order failed. The result is an arrest and allowing the system to determine the outcome and punishment if necessary. The more the system is involved the more taxpayer dollars that are spent. The result is costly and is not proven to be effective for many law violations.
Having a community policing mentality is far more effective and will keep control of situations like spring break. Officers are trained to be embedded into the environment and available for citizens to communicate with those officers. It is human nature to avoid conflict with authority figures. Officers are much better used if a friendly relationship is formed with citizens. The opposite occurs with a zero-tolerance approach. Citizens feeling the “us vs them”’ mentality can cause situations to be unobserved by law enforcing because communication doesn’t exist until the matter is elevated and a casual approach will not be effective. People are less likely to offer cooperation if they feel the law enforcement officers resent their presence.
Often Law Enforcement leadership will publicly adopt a zero-tolerance policy. Many times, that policy is applied when all other efforts have failed, or manpower issues stop an agency from properly staffing an event to have a community policing approach. A zero-tolerance approach to a problem is expected for issues concerning violence or other serious offenses. A zero-tolerance approach to minor offenses should not be adopted. Most of violations that occur during spring break could be rectified with calls to parents or chaperones. Some violations could be handled with citations that address issues but recognize that the offense shouldn’t cause a person to return from the other side of the country for a court appearance. A fine could be paid and the person must acknowledge their actions were improper.
The problem really is that our law enforcement leaders in the ECSO are more interested in showing how they can use authority. Seldom is there an effort to solve a problem without increased conflict. Morgan displays aggression at any hint of an encounter with one that disagrees with his position. The mood at the agency is tense. The environment of a dysfunctional agency carries into offers and their performance. The agency announces a zero-tolerance policy for spring break. Inexperienced officers work the beach during spring break. Fearing repercussion from supervisors for being lenient cause officers to lean toward arrests and not consider alternative solutions to reoccurring problems. This simple-minded approach is a breeding ground for unlawful arrests.
Having many arrests proves only that chaos prevailed. Law enforcement loses an argument that starts with bragging about high arrest numbers. If you want to really impress the citizens, report back a perfect game–no arrests and no victims. That should be the goal. Don’t polish your image with senseless arrests that only give a chance for failed leadership to pretend they are on the job. It would be more honorable to admit the fledgling agency has fallen victim to a con man.