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Article- Over Enforcement & Under Enforcement ?

8/31/2016 12:00:00 AM

The Guardian Today - The Journal of Best Practices in Community Policing and Corrections Volume 1, Issue 2 August- October2016

Under-Enforcement: The Issue Often Neglectedby Law Enforcement Agencies in Community-Oriented Policing

With regard to developing community trust between police departments and the communities that they serve, there are two perceptions in the communities that can erode community trust. These are over-enforcement and under-enforcement of the law.

According to Natapoff (2006), " Over-enforcement and under-enforcement are twin symptoms of a deeper democratic weakness of the criminal justice system: it's non-responsiveness to the needs of the poor, racial minorities, and the otherwise politically vulnerable." This is particularly noted in complaints by African-American communities in regard to policing.

A decade ago, Randall Kennedy, argued that" the principal injury suffered by African Americans in relation to criminal matters is not over-enforcement, but under-enforcement of the law.

What exactly is meant by "under-enforcement"? According to Natapoff (2006), under-enforcement is a weak state response to law breaking as well as victimization; failing to enforce the law to the detriment of vulnerable residents, in which calls to police are rendered futile or even dangerous, and victimhood becomes a fact of life.

Under-enforcement occurs when justice and lawlessness are distributed unequally across race and class lines. Crimes that would never be tolerated in white middle and upper class neighborhoods remained un-policed in poor and predominantly African American communities. Leovy (2015) suggests that the legacy of under-policing reaches back to the Jim Crow era when murders of black citizens were tolerated and often not prosecuted [unless a black person killed a white citizen]. She states that " One of segregation's most pervasive tricks: Blacks were kept down not by the application of law but by the failure to apply it."

Examples of under-enforcement in African American communities are: Unsolved homicides Slow or non-existent responses to 911 calls Tolerance of low levels of petty crimes such as loitering, public drunkenness, littering, property crimes, and public disorder. Permitted open-air drug markets Open-air drug markets are the most infamous examples of under-enforcement. When allowed, criminals get bolder, residents grow reluctant to cooperate with the police, and crimes harder to solve.Under-enforcement is a critical issue that law enforcement must address because it leads to three major problems: It breeds disrespect for the police; police are viewed as unreliable, unable and unwilling to protect them. It exposes all law-abiding citizens to criminal activity. It increases the risk that juveniles will engage in crime.

It is critical that law enforcement address these twin issues that deny these groups equal protection under the law. The elderly and families with children are the most vulnerable in African American communities. Law enforcement must make the effort to let these populations know that their voices are heard. Legitimacy rests not only in catching criminals, but in protecting the rights of innocent victims in African American communities. Building trust with African American communities begins with assuring law abiding citizens that they will be protected.

References"Nobody trust them! Under- and over- policing Native American Communities", Barbara Perry, Critical Criminology ,Volume 14, Issue 4, pp. 411-444, November 2006Kennedy, Randall L. Race, Crime, and the Law, Pantheon, 1997"The Underpolicing of Black America", Jill Leovy, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 23, 2015"Underenforcement" Alexandra Natapoff, Forham Law Review, Vol. 75, Issue 3, pp. 1715 - 1723, 2006


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