In the wake of recent events, law enforcement officers are at a “tipping point” that could spell dangerous consequences for the communities they serve, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke testified before a House panel Tuesday.
“We’re at a tipping point and it is something that I expressed not too long after what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, about the psyche of the police officer who watches these things go on, just like anybody else does, and the constant bashing and maligning of the profession is starting to take its toll,” Clarke said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing examining police strategies.
Clarke explained that he spent last week in the D.C. area for National Police Week. There he spoke with law enforcement officers from across the country and said he heard a similar message from each.
“The one common theme I heard from them, first of all, their mindset is they’re beleaguered right now. But the common theme that I heard is, ‘You know, sheriff, I don’t know if I want to continue to take that extra step any more, because I don’t want to be the next Darren Wilson,’” he said, referencing the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot Michael Brown.
According to Clarke, the result of the backlash against law enforcement will be an erosion of “self-initiated” police work.
“It’s not the call for service. When an officer gets sent to a call for service something already happened. It’s reactive. The crime already occurred. But the self-initiated policing is when that officer, that man or woman uses their experience, their sixth sense, if you will, their street sense that criminal activity may be afoot,” he said.
It is in those instances, Clarke explained, that police find “the guns that are being used to transport to and from drive-by shootings, you’re going to find prohibited persons with firearms, you’re going to find drugs, you’re going to find people wanted on serious felony warrants through self-initiated policing.”
“When that starts to fall off — there will be a lag time. This isn’t going to happen overnight. The cops in this country aren’t going to quit. but over time when they start to worry they look and they see that suspicious vehicle or they see that suspicious individual and say, maybe not today, I don’t want this thing to go haywire on me and next thing I know I’m one of those officers that — who becomes a household name in America. that is going to a lag time, ok. I don’t like to create hysteria but over time I think it’s going to have an effect on crime rates in those communities that need this sort of policing the most and that is our minority communities,” he added.