Morale of Officers Takes a Hit Amid Calls to Defund Departments: Police Groups

July 18, 2020 Updated: July 18, 2020

Last month, Minneapolis City Council approved a proposal to change the city charter that would allow the police department to be dismantled. Meanwhile, New York officials announced that $1 billion of the city’s police budget had been shifted away from the department.

What was once seen as a radical idea, is materializing across the country as the “defund the police” movement, and it is gaining ground.

The “Defund the Police” movement, which emerged from the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, calls for the reallocation of funds away from police departments to other social programs. The movement claims that police departments are systemically racist and that police funding can be better used to help African American communities.

One of the prominent groups pushing the movement to defund police is Black Lives Matter, whose leaders claim to be “trained Marxists.”

This response to Floyd’s death, coupled with escalating anti-police sentiments, rioting across the country, and a push to reform policing practices, has taken a toll on the morale of law enforcement men and women, who are facing greater pressure in recent weeks in their already highly demanding jobs.

“Their morale is maybe the worst ever right now,” said Joseph Imperatrice, the founder of Blue Lives Matter NYC, an organization working to support police officers and their families. “Officers have no sense in what direction to go. Their training is thrown out the window right now. … They’re trained properly and how to subdue individuals [but] they’re holding back now because they don’t want to be on the front page of the paper and be arrested and lose their job for doing what they were taught to do.”

Imperatrice, who is an active police sergeant, told The Epoch Times that he is seeing an increasing number of New York police officers retiring, saying that many of these officers feel demoralized in the face of the violence perpetrated by rioters and extremist groups and the lack of support from superiors.

“It’s a really hard time to be a police officer,” he said. “And on top of that, with the budget cuts, especially the billion dollars in New York, you’re not going to have a backfill of officers coming in.”

The New York Police Department (NYPD), which is the largest police department in the country with approximately 36,000 officers, told The Epoch Times that since May 25—the day Floyd was killed—503 officers have filed for retirement. This is a 75 percent increase over the same period last year. Meanwhile, between June 29 and July 6 alone, 179 police officers filed for retirement, a 411 percent increase over the same period last year.

“The NYPD has seen a surge in the number of officers filing for retirement. While the decision to retire is a personal one and can be attributed to a range of factors, it is a troubling trend that we are closely monitoring,” the department said.

Dwindling police department numbers could impact public safety as it could increase response time, Imperatrice said, adding that this would eventually lead people to feel that nobody is there to help them. He added that the uptick in crime that the Big Apple has seen in recent weeks would likely continue an upward trajectory if this is not addressed.

Between June 1 and 28, New York City saw 250 victims of shootings, the NYPD said. That number represents an increase of nearly 160 percent from the same period last year and the largest number for that four-week time frame since 1996.

Imperatrice said that people will begin to ask, “where are the cops?”

He said he believes it will lead to a lot of tension: “that’s not fair to the community. And it’s not that the officers aren’t doing their job. It’s just the resources aren’t there to complete it.”

The Numbers

Rob O’Donnell, a former New York City police detective and board member of Brothers Before Others, told The Epoch Times that he thinks police officers are being targeted for an incident that was not representative of how policing is conducted.

“Police are feeling attacked at all angles for what truly are isolated very infrequent incidents,” O’Donnell said.

About 50 million Americans over the age of 16 came in contact with police at least once in 2015, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (pdf).

Meanwhile, police use deadly force about 1,000 times annually, according to a database maintained by The Washington Post, who has been tracking fatal police shootings since Jan. 1, 2015. Over that time, the number of people shot and killed annually has remained consistently around 1,000.

O’Donnell said while there is room for improvement in policing and with improving police-community relations, the conversation must not start from a place of false narratives. He added that politicians should also look at what the failure is at its core.

“Is it the policy’s themselves or the application of policies?” he said. “In the George Floyd case I believe it to be the application of the policy, and when someone misapplies a policy be it via negligence or criminal intent, then we have avenues to deal with that, which is exactly what’s being followed here. The officer was arrested, he will be indicted and tried, and will face a jury of his peers who will judge him criminally.”

Meanwhile, the issue of systemic racism toward the black American community in law enforcement is at the center of calls for reform. The Post’s database also shows that there were about 2,400 white Americans who were fatally shot by police since Jan. 1, 2015, which was almost twice the number of black Americans who were shot at 1,300 in the same time period.

However, since black Americans account for 13 percent of the population, the rate of black Americans who were shot and killed by police is twice the rate of white Americans. This is the source of the claim of systemic racism.

Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The War on Cops,” previously explained to The Epoch Times that this does not necessarily mean police are shooting blacks out of racism.

“What predicts officer use of force is the rate at which officers encounter violent and resisting suspects. And the rate at which officers killed blacks is actually far less than what their crime rates would predict,” Mac Donald said.

The FBI Unified Crime Reporting Program shows that in 2018 black Americans committed 37.4 percent of violent crimes in the United States.

O’Donnell said, “Based on feeling from a statistically isolated incident we are making radical changes that are handicapping police who in 99.9 percent of the occurrences applied policies correctly, which will in turn lead to increased crimes, and more emboldened criminals.”

Attorney General William Barr acknowledged earlier this month that he believes black American males are often treated differently by U.S. law enforcement such as “treated with extra suspicion and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt.”

Floyd’s death, he says, demonstrates that the country still has work to do in regards to correcting years of distrust between the black American community and law enforcement.

“Before the George Floyd incident, I thought we were in a good place. I thought that economic opportunities were expanding and the African American community was able to participate more than ever before in those opportunities,” Barr told ABC News in an interview.

“I think that this episode in Minneapolis showed that we still have some work to do in addressing the distrust that exists in the African American community toward law enforcement.”

Community Support

Melissa Robey, the founder of We Back Blue, a pro-police community group, has been holding marches around the country to show her support for law enforcement. Coming from a law enforcement family—a sister is an active officer, her father is a retired District of Columbia police officer, and her grandfather was a state trooper—Robey said she was saddened by the rioting she saw in Washington following Floyd’s death.

“What I saw were people breaking into buildings and smashing windows and I saw police cars blocking the streets for them to do this,” she told The Epoch Times. “The police officers were standing there with their arms in front of them not really reacting. And I could tell, because I know a lot of people in law enforcement, that it was like really killing them.”

Robey said after the death of David Dorn, the 77-year-old retired police captain who was fatally shot during looting in St. Louis, Missouri, she decided she needed to do something about it. She then gathered a few friends and marched up 7th Street in Washington to the police memorial on June 13. After that first march, people quickly got wind of the movement and it began to grow.

Police officers are also responding to her marches, Robey said. One state trooper came up to her while she was pumping gas and asked her whether she was the “We Back Blue” woman. She said the trooper then asked her whether he could give her a hug. The trooper said he was overwhelmed by the support he saw from the community during one of her rallies in Manassas, Virginia. He said he had expected 10 people to show up but instead 400 people did.

“He goes: ‘You have no idea what that did for our morale.’ So increasing their morale in the job, and increasing community awareness of what these officers are actually doing, and what they’re going through is going to effect change,” she said.

Robey said her message for people is that there are “really, really good police officers out there.”

“[There are officers] that love their community, that are doing the job to protect their community,” she said. “They’re not becoming millionaires because they put on a gun and a badge. They’re out there because they love their communities and they love people and they want to help.”

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan