11. What would our fathers have done?
Previously in this series:
Part 1: 'He could go either way'
Part 2: 'Lord of the Flies'
Part 3: 'And I am keeping him hungry'
Part 4: A chat with Madison Police Chief Noble Wray
Part 5: Not lowering our standards
Part 6: Saying 'We love you'
Part 7: Treating yourself poorly
Part 8: Generous to a fault
Part 9: Come and get it: Section 8
Part 10: One landlord at a time
To almost everyone I talk these days I ask this question: What would our fathers have done?
My father was a World War 2 vet, a farmer, and a state legislator. As he approached his 80s he kept a small-bore Smith & Wesson in the glove compartment of his gas guzzler. He had spent his whole life in control and did not intend to become a victim at his age. He spent his whole life being causative.
I don't think he ever called the police in his life. He handled his own business and no one got in his way.
Madison PD Chief Noble Wray, one of 10 children, says he feared his father more than his teachers. "We have to have respect, discipline, and accountability," the chief says.
The problem, of course, is that too many young men don't have fathers or father figures. As Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint point out in their book, Come On People, "A house without a father is a challenge. A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe, and that's just about what we have today.
"... In 1950, five out of every six black children were born into a two-parent home. Today, the number is less than two out of six. There are ... whole blocks without responsible males to watch out for wayward boys."
Ironically, the police could well be that missing father figure. I go back to the little 3-year-old pestering "Officer Mike" Hanson to explain all the paraphernalia he carried on his police uniform belt.
James Q. Wilson and George Kelling describe the change in policing that has occurred since our father's time (by this I mean before the 1960s) in their seminal "Broken Windows" article in The Atlantic magazine.
Then: Police were the keepers of order, a slightly better-armed adjunct of the community who walked the streets and settled matters right then and there while the fathers were busy in the factories or at well deserved rest watching Uncle Miltie with a bowl of popcorn on their laps.
Today: The police are only one cog in the criminal justice system, their powers circumscribed by the district attorney's office, the judiciary, and the correctional system. Their primary duties today are as foot soldiers to build a case that will withstand the vicissitudes of criminal court and endless appellate court second-guessing.
Kelling (a personal acquaintance of Chief Wray) and Wilson write:
Police (before the 1960s) assisted in that reassertion of authority by acting, sometimes violently, on behalf of the community. Young toughs were roughed up, people were arrested "on suspicion" or for vagrancy, and prostitutes and petty thieves were routed. "Rights" were something enjoyed by decent folk, and perhaps also by the serious professional criminal, who avoided violence and could afford a lawyer.
This pattern of policing was not an aberration or the result of occasional excess. From the earliest days of the nation, the police function was seen primarily as that of a night watchman: to maintain order against the chief threats to order-fire, wild animals, and disreputable behavior.
... The essence of the police role in maintaining order is to reinforce the informal control mechanisms of the community itself. The police cannot, without committing extraordinary resources, provide a substitute for that informal control.
Over the past two decades, the shift of police from order-maintenance to law enforcement has brought them increasingly under the influence of legal restrictions, provoked by media complaints and enforced by court decisions and departmental orders. As a consequence, the order maintenance functions of the police are now governed by rules developed to control police relations with suspected criminals. This is, we think, an entirely new development. For centuries, the role of the police as watchmen was judged primarily not in terms of its compliance with appropriate procedures but rather in terms of its attaining a desired objective. The objective was order, an inherently ambiguous term but a condition that people in a given community recognized when they saw it. The means were the same as those the community itself would employ, if its members were sufficiently determined, courageous, and authoritative.
Detecting and apprehending criminals, by contrast, was a means to an end, not an end in itself; a judicial determination of guilt or innocence was the hoped-for result of the law-enforcement mode. From the first, the police were expected to follow rules defining that process, though states differed in how stringent the rules should be. The criminal-apprehension process was always understood to involve individual rights, the violation of which was unacceptable because it meant that the violating officer would be acting as a judge and jury-and that was not his job. Guilt or innocence was to be determined by universal standards under special procedures.
Ordinarily, no judge or jury ever sees the persons caught up in a dispute over the appropriate level of neighborhood order. That is true not only because most cases are handled informally on the street but also because no universal standards are available to settle arguments over disorder, and thus a judge may not be any wiser or more effective than a police officer. Until quite recently in many states, and even today in some places, the police made arrests on such charges as "suspicious person" or "vagrancy" or "public drunkenness"-charges with scarcely any legal meaning. These charges exist not because society wants judges to punish vagrants or drunks but because it wants an officer to have the legal tools to remove undesirable persons from a neighborhood when informal efforts to preserve order in the streets have failed.
By the way, for those who say the Broken Windows theory is discredited, please tell that to Noble Wray, chief of police, Madison, WI. It forms the foundation of his community-based policing approach.
- I invite loyal BlaskaBlogophiles to revisit Come and get it -- Section 8. The original posting inexplicably omitted Chief Wray's reservations about the causal relationship between Section 8 housing vouchers and crime. It has been restored. (Due diligence.)
- Are you as tired as I am with Matt Logan's transparent attempts to punish Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele for voting against one of his bike paths? He insists, from his Langdon Street neighborhood perch, that he is trying to help those of us on the Southwest side work through our problems. He says this even as he fights everything our neighborhood associations and our alderman have asked for - everything from more cops to stepped up curfews.
I uncovered this likeness of Bicycle Boy fleeing from responsibility: