Police power restricted by negative public opinion

Andrew Hout

Events including Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner have recently brought the issue of police brutality to light. However, casting blame upon all police officers for the actions of only a few is more detrimental to our society than it is helpful. The negative attention on the police has theoretically handcuffed them, limiting the extent to which officers are able to carry out their jobs.

Society’s view on the amount of aggression police are allowed to exhibit rests on a hypothetical pendulum. When crime rates rise, police become more aggressive and as a result, crime rates fall. Then, society stops thinking of crime as an imminent issue and concerns shift back to police aggression. As a result, police are told by their officials to back off. However, once criminals realize the police are withdrawing, they start committing more crimes.

Anthony P. Coles, a former Deputy Mayor of New York City under Mayor Rudy Giulani between 2000-2001, gave his perspective on rising crime rates. Coles is now a partner in the New York office of DLA Piper, one of the largest law firms in the world.

Coles recounted that under former Mayor Giulani’s office from 1996-2001, the murder rate in New York City was lowered from 2,100 murders a year to 600 a year. This was the largest reduction of crime rate any city in the world had ever seen.


Crime rates dropped under Giulani due to his support in giving police the power to use necessary force in efforts to stop crime. Coles is correct in believing when police crack down on crime, it creates a safer, no tolerance type of culture.

As the current mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio has limited the amount of authority police officers hold by restricting certain tactics, resulting in a crime rate that rose 20 percent in the first two months of 2015.

“In every large group of people you will have a few bad apples, but the mayor [Bill de Blasio] believes that a few bad apples represent the entire crop, which just isn’t true,” Coles said. “A few brutal cops are not representative of the entire New York City police force.”

Society’s recent view of police has been warped by the immense publicity of police brutality, not just in New York City, but in the entire country.

We should face this issue head-on by allowing police to have leeway in certain circumstances, such as the use of aggressive tactics, though still punishing the use of excessive force.  

Although much of the police force in Ferguson, Missouri, has been depicted as brutal, they are not an accurate representation of all officers across the United States.

Though most youth generalize American police to be crooked and corrupt based off of what they hear on the news, police officers for the most part are there to help their communities by lessening crime and protecting citizens.

Kris Rockwell, a police officer for the Central Marin Police Authority agrees that the public opinion of police officers has grown increasingly negative.

During times of high crime rate when the police are needed to step in, the media rarely runs stories of their faults because people are desperate and focused on lowering the crime rate. When crime occurs less frequently, society thinks of the police as an unnecessary legion.   

“[Younger people] are not necessarily growing up with the attitude toward authority that maybe their parents or grandparents grew up with, so I think younger people are questioning authority a lot more these days,” Rockwell said.

Perhaps we are currently in the midst of one of the swings of the hypothetical pendulum, where crime is low and society is beginning to focus more on police officers’ faults rather than their successes.

My underlying concern is that if, in the future, we sanction police extensively, crime will come back in full force.

Americans should understand that our nation’s police hold a critical position in society. We must not disrupt the balance or we could be looking at major spikes in crime.We should try sanctioning police on a lower level so our crime doesn’t rise exponentially.