Blue Lives Don’t Matter

Newport News police officer Katherine M. “Katie” Thyne, 24, mother of two, and girl’s basketball coach, was killed in January during a traffic stop. In the incident, she was dragged about a block and pinned between the fleeing car and a tree.

by James A. Bacon

Last week Virginia Senate Democrats unveiled a 27-bill package of criminal justice “reforms” they will advance in the special session that Governor Ralph Northam has said he expects to call this August. Some have potential merit, such as a slew of proposals to hold law-enforcement officers accountable for unjustified use of force. But some seem to be scripted to ruin police morale.

The list released by the Senate Dems provides only a bare-bones description of what the initiatives entail. There is no way to know exactly what legislators have in mind until we see the bills. Even so, there’s reason enough to sound the sirens. Bacon’s Rebellion will take a closer look at the more alarming proposals as time permits. For now, I want to focus on one: “defelonizing” assaults on law enforcement officers.

Under current law, anyone convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer is guilty of a Class 6 felony and subject to a mandatory minimum term of confinement of six months. The proposal would reduce assaults to misdemeanors.

Last year, according to the Crime in Virginia 2019 report, there were 1,939 assaults on officers. While more than two-thirds were minor scraps resulting in no injury, 497 resulted in minor injuries, 22 in major injuries, seven in broken bones, six in severe lacerations, four possible internal injuries, and one in a fatality.

What is the justification for reducing the penalty? One possible reason is to equalize penalties for assaulting police with penalties for assaulting other members of the public. Simple assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying a penalty up to six months rather than a minimum of six months. Perhaps African-Americans are disproportionately likely to be sentenced for the charge. I don’t know. Hopefully, we’ll know more when the Dems roll out their legislation.

Let’s explore the downside of reducing the penalty. Roughly 8% of the state’s 22,848 police officers are assaulted each year. While the overwhelming majority of interactions with the population are peaceful, incidents could turn violent at any time. Here is a breakdown of the circumstances in which the assaults occurred last year:

Responding to disturbance call: 459
Attempting other arrests: 432
Handling/transporting prisoners: 298
All other: 274
Investigating suspicious persons: 153
Traffic pursuits and stops: 144
Handling persons with mental illness: 136
Burglary in progress/pursuing suspect: 19
Civil disorder: 11
Ambush — no warning: 7
Robbery in progress/pursuing suspect: 6

Nearly 1,500 incidents involved bodily assaults (hands, fists, feet, arms, teeth, etc.); others involved firearms (47), motor vehicles (45), knives (15), blunt objects (15), and even fire/explosives (1) and asphyxiation (1).

How much deterrent effect does the felony penalty have? Most of the incidents described above occurred in the heat of the moment. I question whether criminals dispassionately calculate the pros and cons before assaulting an officer: “Well, now that they’ve reduced the penalty, I might get only three months in jail rather than six if I sucker-punch that cop.”

I would go so far as to say that most people have no clue what the law provides. I don’t think the law is about deterrence.

On the other hand, law-enforcement officers assuredly do know the penalties. And when they confront potentially dangerous situations, they’d like to know that society has got their back. I can’t imagine what’s happening to police morale right now in Virginia as the Black Lives Matter movement, the media and many politicians paint police as the bad guys. Reportedly, police retirements have increased 50% this year over last year in New York. But, then, New York is run by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has long scapegoated police, and Virginia has no one comparably hostile. Perhaps the Virginia Retirement System has data on police retirements; it would be useful data to have.

Even without hard data, of all the purported reforms proposed by the Senate Democrats, this strikes me as one of the worst. The measure does nothing to ensure equal justice of African-Americans in the criminal justice system, but it dramatically signals to law-enforcement officers that their safety and lives have less value. The message isn’t that Black Lives Matter, it’s that Blue Lives Don’t Matter. Is that a message that most Democrats really want to convey?

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67 responses to “Blue Lives Don’t Matter

  1. Perpetuating the myth of “the dangerous job” perpetuates the excuse for brutality.

    Honest dialogue requires honest representation of facts. Not even in the top 10 dangerous jobs.

    Here’s something fun to examine… https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/machinery/index

    • So because it ranks just outside the top ten its qualification as a “dangerous job” is relegated to myth status. Honest dialogue would require you to stop acting/commenting like an immature, reprehensible twit. The quality of BR has suffered as a result of your incessant tweaks and non-sequiturs.

    • I have a feeling that the level of danger in being a policeman varies quite significantly by geography. Logging is dangerous across the board. Being a cop in Chicago’s District 11 is a lot more dangerous than being a cop in some toffy neighborhood in Richmond’s suburbs.

      You should volunteer for an inner-city ride along given your lack of concerns.

      • True dat, but the danger of police brutality on black Americans is uniformly spread everywhere.

        Loggers have yet to kill people while claiming that logging is the most dangerous job. Neither has your trash collector.

        • “Loggers have yet to kill people while claiming that logging is the most dangerous job. Neither has your trash collector.”

          The fact that you seem to think there are corollaries between being a Peace Officer and a Logger and/or Trash Collector is just you being obtuse.

          The dangers associated which each job are different, trees aren’t armed and shot back.

          What keeps reform from happening is hyperbolic arguments.

          “Everyone has a plan: until they get punched in the face”

          Go put on a badge, and tell everyone how easy the job is.

          • The hyperbole started with DJ.

            It is not a dangerous job and they are not heroes. It, like all jobs, is compensated, and unlike most jobs can claim to be a noble pursuit, along with all public service jobs.

          • Someone doesn’t know what “hyperbole” is on top of what a troll is. I can see how that can be very confusing for someone with your lack of education. (Yes, that was a personal attack. As you can’t ever seem to keep anything above board).

            Says the coward who’s never been shot at.

      • In how many towns, cities and counties controlled by Democrats are there high levels of police brutality against blacks? Minneapolis and Atlanta for starters.

  2. “Perpetuating the myth of “the dangerous job” perpetuates the excuse for brutality.”
    Don’t you mean the myth of “police brutality”?

    . . . but you DO have that Marxist jargon thing down pretty well.

    Incidentally I don’t believe there are many jobs that have 8% of their employees assaulted on the job every year- but maybe my life is dull.

    • There was not a felony penalty attached to “assault” — not to be confused with aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon or attempted murder — prior to 1997. Was it really needed then? Has it actually reduced the incidence of simple assaults on officers? I’m playing contrarian here, admittedly, but it is not the most concerning item on the list to me. Taking a swing at a cop will remain a very bad life choice. The more serious charges will remain for the most serious incidents.

      However, it will get lots of attention, as just demonstrated, and prove politically problematic. I’m a bit more concerned that officers will need to go through some “de-escalation” check list while under active gunfire….

      • methinks the word “assault” in a police interaction context if it is not a felony – might be problematical sometimes.

        especially if we’re going to say that 8% of police are “assaulted”.

        yes – we need a more honest discussion.

    • There are statistics quoted so often that we’ve come to accept them. For example, one often hears that 70% of murders are committed by persons known to the victim, e.g., spouse, lovers, even children.

      That means 30% are by “strangers”. Now, 30% of murders by strangers are cops.

      Cops kill 1 out of every 11 people murdered in this country. It may in most circumstances be completely justified, but it’s still 1 out of 11.

      • All homicides are not murders. You knowingly mix the two to dissemble.

        • What do you honestly expect when the same person makes the following quote:

          “Nancy_Naive | June 29, 2020 at 12:31 pm |
          The hyperbole started with DJ.

          It is not a dangerous job and they are not heroes. It, like all jobs, is compensated, and unlike most jobs can claim to be a noble pursuit, along with all public service jobs.”

  3. I see some room for improvement in this statute. Very often, the charge is used when an arrestee simply resists arrest, like when struggling with the handcuffs while at the same time giving the arresting officer a load of crap. The officer gets pissed off and instead of charging resisting arrest, charges the mandatory felony. That improves the bargaining position of the Commonwealth, who can then reduce the charge if he/she sees fit. Better to let the judge or jury have that discretion in the penalty phase. Increases the checks or balance. Downside to that approach is a city jury less likely to convict where they should. Difficult problem. I don’t like mandatory anything. Judges and juries are supposed to exercise…..wait for it… judgment.

    • the outcome of that kind of police interaction varies greatly according to what kind of legal help the accused can afford.

      that’s the problem.

      • Larry, you’re going to have to explain your reasoning on this one.

        • The reasoning is that the police and prosecutors sometimes base their actions on whether or not the accused has a top notch lawyer or not.

          Some of these trumped up charges go nowhere with someone who has a good lawyer – but against someone who has limited access to a good lawyer – they twist in the wind.

          A legal system that works that way is not a good one and it leads to other problems.

    • People are probably not aware that the “enhanced assault sentence” statute covers more than law enforcement officers. Also coming under the provisions are: judges, magistrates, correctional officers, other state and local correctional staff, staff of the Dept. of Behavioral and Developmental Services in the facility operated by the agency for sexually violent predators, firefighters, and EMS personnel. Furthermore, “law enforcement officer” is more than cops; the term also includes: conservation officer (park ranger), ABC special agent, game warden, DMV enforcement officer, WMATA police officer, and fire marshal.

      Each year, another group tries to get added to the list. During the last session, it was animal control officers (HB 818) and private police officers (SB 964). Neither bill passed.

      As Crazy discusses above and Sen. Surovell discussed in an earlier post, the charge can be a potent bargaining tool for the prosecution. A simple assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but an assault on a police officer is a Class 6 felony. (A prosecutor has the discretion to charge someone under para. A of the Code section (simple assault) or paragraph C, the enhanced penalty for assault of public safety personnel.) The discussion in this post has focused on the six month mandatory minimum penalty, but a Class 6 felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Also, a felony conviction is much more serious on someone’s record than a misdemeanor.

      As Jim discussed, there is probably not a great deal of deterrent value in having an assault on a cop carrying a higher penalty. I think most of the groups who lobbied to get included in the provision did so, not because of its deterrence value, but because being included was a recognition by government and society that their jobs carried some element of risk (however small). Symbolism can be powerful and the Democrats had better be careful with this.

  4. Nancy. Good work! If they call you an immature twit and blame you for the decline of Western civilization, you know you are on the right track.

  5. Virginia’s craven Democratic ‘governing class’ concocted this ‘ 27-bill package of criminal justice “reforms” while Virginia’s police stood outside the state house doors battling mobs raging outside, defending the drafters of their own demise. This is a very old and well worn script of history. One that never ends well.

    • Notable & Quotable (From Today’s Wall Street Journal-

      “Tom Lyden reporting for KMSP-TV in Minneapolis, June 27:

      The City of Minneapolis is spending $4,500 a day for private security for three council members who have received threats following the police killing of George Floyd, FOX 9 has learned. . . .

      The three council members who have the security detail—Andrea Jenkins (Ward 8), and Phillipe Cunningham (Ward 4), and Alondra Cano (Ward 9)—have been outspoken proponents of defunding the Minneapolis Police Department. . . .

      Asked why Minneapolis Police are not providing security services to the three council members, a city spokesperson said MPD resources are needed in the community.”

  6. The further problem with mandatory penalties is that I am not allowed to tell the jury, in effect, “Be careful when you decide this person’s guilt or innocence. He is facing a mandatory sentence of X”. The penalties are usually horrendous and out of proportion to the crime in half the cases.

    Consider the case of the 18 yr old previously convicted of sex with a 14 yr old, a very common occurrence in the inner city but usually only penalized when mom doesn’t like the young man. So now the 18 yr old has a felony conviction of a sex offense. The next time he is convicted of any of a number of qualifying sex offenses, he’s facing a mandatory life sentence.

    A few years later, he goes to a party where there is a lot of drinking, and three of the male party goers get it on with one of the girls, who later claims she was drunk and incapacitated, and therefore unable to consent, making it rape. Only problem: many witnesses who say that after #1 male has his turn, the girl pops her head up and says, “Who’s next?’

    Commonwealth demands a jury, who cannot be told that they have to impose a mandatory life sentence if they convict but has to be told that he previously was convicted of this other sex crime in order to prove “2nd offense”. A judge, knowing the consequences of a 2nd offense conviction, is going to be very careful about convicting. Juries, on the other hand, often compromise their verdicts, “Well, we’ll convict him but we’ll send him on his way with a year or two in jail” Imagine their surprise when told, at sentencing, that they don’t have that choice.

    Mandatory sentencing is a very bad policy. In the example above, the jury still has the option to impose a life sentence in their discretion, since the penalty for rape in front of a jury is 5 to life.

    Another inequity: Defendants are effectively deprived of a jury in the 5 to life scenario because the jury has to give a minimum sentence of 5 years, whereas the judge can sentence to much less if he hears the case on liability as well as sentencing.

    Sorry Jim. Have to part company on this one.

    • Crazy – congrats… you do “get it”… now convince Bacon…

    • Especially, repeat offender laws.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/magazine/23strikes-t.html

      I love California. They showcase the failures of the law more often than their liberal leanings.

    • You, of course, are discussing a much larger issue–mandatory minimum sentences. I agree with you, judges are in the best position to determine the appropriate sentence in accordance with the circumstances of the case. The GA began adding minimum mandatory sentences soon after the sentencing guidelines came into effect. The members did not think the sentences being imposed by judges were harsh enough.

      I am surprised that this issue was not on the list of reforms. The Governor announced last year that he would not sign any legislation with a mandatory minimum sentence.

      • Mandatory minimums should be the core of any discussion on Criminal Justice Reform, which can and should include Police reforms.

        That 1994 Crime bill has had repercussion that were either never envisioned or they were and just swept under the rug.

  7. Yep. Agree. Good point Crazy

  8. Everybody calm down. No more personal attacks, or even defense against personal attacks, or I’ll shut this thread down. Stick to the issues. Criticize facts and logic all day long, but no personal attacks.

  9. With all due respect, although that might take care of the issue of the day, the fact is that the level of discourse in recent weeks has plummeted. This blog once served as a forum for legitimate debate on a variety of issues. That status has been lessened by the incessant one line hit pieces that have become the norm rather than the exception. I think I can say that as one that previously commented substantively on issues with the occasional (or maybe not so occasional) pointed comment. That I haven’t commented as frequently at a time when I have considerably more free time indicates that I no longer find it worthwhile to spend the time and effort given proclivity of some to resort to “snarkiness” at every opportunity and on every thread.

  10. Jim. You let this happen. Last week, I was subjected to unprecedented personal attacks by Reed Fawell, Gillispie and others. I did not attack them personally. I am sick and tired of trying to come up with an original and alternative point of view. I have a lot experience and am not going to pretend I do not. I am being put down by people I do not know and who do not know me. I would like to excuse you by saying that this is an offshoot of Donald Trump’s utter vulgarity. But I do get tired of banging my head against the wall and have other fish to fry without having to put up with insults from Gillispie, Fawell, SBostian, warrenhowell books, CrazyJD, mom and the rest (and to some extent Haner). If you want to come clean, start by requiring commenters to give their full and true identities. I always have.

    Offshoot

    • But Peter, you just cited three in your list with, I assume, full and true identity. The alias, or identity, is no guarantee, not even close, to a cessation of a personal attack. That has to come from the critic.

      Of course, the hard thing to avoid is reciprocating. Sometimes we fail. Everyone takes shots, why even the esteemed Cap’n Sherlock isn’t above it. Steve, who thinks he’s acerbic, is more or less harmless with a good wit, but he has cast a cut our ways.

      The only case worthy of drastic measure is that of constant and continuous. Like me with Kerry, for example, but I’m weak, and lord, she’s so damned personally offended by life.

      Wait James, this one doesn’t count. It was being written before the final solution warning.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Amen. I was once John Randolph of Roanoke. Everybody knows my name now. Mr. Peter is right. No more hiding.

  11. OK, guys, this is getting out of hand. I will delete any future comment on this thread that smacks of a personal attack from whomever against whomever.

  12. Jim. You really need to address this. Your last comment is a dodge. If you let one side prevail, you will end up with a boring echo chamber and platform for lobby groups. You will lose views. Believe me, I have other outlets. One former commenter who left in disgust by put downs from others, emailed me: “contributing was making me too cranky.” I feel the same way. It is your fault.

  13. This whole matter of police reform only addresses the symptom, not the underlying problem. It seems to me that our drug laws are prompting many of the interactions between the cops and those who are suffering the overuse of force. The statistics I have seen show that approximately 25% of inmates are there due to drugs. How many others are there due to related offenses (stealing for drug money, etc)? The war on drugs has proven a miserable failure- I challenge anyone to produce an individual who tries to obtain illicit drugs and comes up empty handed.

    If we surrender in the war on drugs, there will be fewer opportunities for police brutality, police shootings, or citizens assaulting the police.

    • Some valid points. But be careful what you wish for. What does “surrender” mean in your mind? What do we do or change? Before ” surrendering”, I think I’d want you to consider studies like those cited in Harvard’s SITN from their Graduate School of Arts and Science http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/uncategorized/2014/risks-of-cannabis-use-in-light-of-legalization-surge/and the article in New England Journal of Medicine, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1402309, on marijuana’s effect on the brain. Colorado’s marijuana legalization shows generally why creation of laws by legislature may be the worst way to create laws. In a time of great and rapid societal changes, we are better off creating law using the common law approach. Heck, we’re a litigious society anyway, why not use it to our advantage?

      And isn’t what we have to worry about NOT the OPPORTUNITY for brutality, shootings, etc., but the ACTUAL INCIDENTS of brutality, shootings, etc.

      • Oh, please don’t misunderstand me. I would be extremely happy if no one used these substances. I am not for folks using drugs. However, I am a fairly pragmatic person, and I cannot find one example of an individual for whom the war on drugs caused them to be unable to obtain any substance they wanted. If we can’t effectively prohibit people from accessing these substances, what in the hell productive has the war on drugs brought us, and at what cost?

        • yep, agree…. there are thousands of ways for folks to do “drugs” and what we have is a system where some are benign with respect to govt and others make you a felon and damage your ability to recover and make a living normally.

    • I tend to agree. Drugs are being used as a pretext for stopping and searching and then a hook into the criminal justice system – from which they are damaged even further in terms of an ability to get and hold a job and not end up again in the criminal justice system.

      This is one of the main reasons we have more people incarcerated as a percentage of our population – than any other country in the world, including countries that imprison people over political reasons.

      When people have already been involved with the criminal justice system over drugs are stopped again – the stakes increase even more.

      In a way, the police become a type of predator looking for folks they think are “sketchy” to stop and search.

      And again, wealthy people, sports figures, entertainers, etc… are not targeted… they’re left alone but low income folks on the street – who often deal in drugs for money – are directly targeted as “anti crime”.

      This is an area where most other countries treat street-level drugs as more of a medical issue rather than a crime issue.

      Uber strict enforcement of existing drug laws – on people who are not wealthy but the opposite is inequitable treatment and yes it adds a lot to the POTENTIAL of problems that can occur when an initial stop becomes a drug stop. Like I said, that does not happen to folks higher up on the economic scale and if it does, it actually comes back on the Police putting the focus on their behavior – not so much for lower income street folks.

      Like during prohibition – the laws actually resulted in organized crime, similarly our drug laws incentivize organized crime and drug cartels.

      • >>And again, wealthy people, sports figures, entertainers, etc… are not targeted… they’re left alone but low income folks on the street >>

        They aren’t? You must live in a different world than I do.

        I don’t argue that drug cartels are UNlike organized crime during prohibition. I do argue that you have to be very careful how and what you legalize and the circumstances under which you control it. Underage kids get beer, just like they get drugs. If your sole goal is to cut out organized crime, go for it. But be conscious of unintended consequences, something legislatures are not very good at, particularly when they act on emotional appeal.

        • they are largely left alone – and they have the means to insulate themselves from the police.

          we go after the ones who don’t have such advantages and essentially ruin their lives when we take away their ability to make a decent living.

          I don’t disagree that govt should have a role in drugs – but it should not be one where people go to prison and lose their ability to make a living… we just damage our own interests… no other developed country does it this way – and as a result, we have more people in prison as a percent of population than any other country – AND that’s just a small part of the economic damage.

          We protect kids right now against cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs, etc.. and the reality is that drugs are so easy to get that kids could get them too… but our cure is way worse than the disease.

          All those other developed countries? their kids beats the pants off our kids academically even though they have easier access to drugs.

          • >>All those other developed countries? their kids beats the pants off our kids academically even though they have easier access to drugs.

            Careful. You are wondering into a kind of Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc reasoning

          • well the question is and has been – is this the right way to do it and one way to answer that is to look at other countries experiences.

            I’d also point out that in addition to their kids being superior to ours academically, that their citizens all live longer than our citizens.

            So less strict drug laws don’t seem to cause the harm that it is said to cause… at least in other developed countries.

            We confuse morals with laws… We do have a responsibility to protect our kids but that does not translate into putting their parents in jail then wringing our hands about how they’re not doing well without their parents.

            You know this Crazy – what we are doing is wrong…

          • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWDutR2eFMA

            Portugal seemed to find a way out.

  14. I am late to the comments. But let’s look at the other states like Maryland. We have 50 examples to consider.

    Let’s look at it from the perspective, we are NOT trying to clobber and destroy the livelihoods of fellow Virginian’s unnecessarily. Criminal mark sets a person back for job opportunities, and so on.

    Let’s look at what we are trying to achieve: compliance to laws , whereas those laws are hopefully well thought out and well communicated.

    • “Let’s look at what we are trying to achieve: compliance to laws , whereas those laws are hopefully well thought out and well communicated.”

      This is truth to words. However, we have a society where Politicians are all too happy to write social engineering laws, instead of allowing people to make their own choices. For instance as Matt Hurt pointed out, the War on Drugs has been a Charlie Foxtrot since 1971 that has continually had substances added to it.

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