Let’s Be Firefighters!

Proactive policing works & the only reason critics can claim otherwise is because they won't pay the price if it goes away

By Jim Glennon  |   Mar 8, 2016

In the first two months of this year the homicide rate has more than doubled in the City of Chicago, with 102 being reported through the end of February. The Chicago Tribune said it is “the deadliest start to a year in the city in nearly two decades (1997).”

In an article on March 1, The Tribune set out to document different perspectives for why the sudden uptick. They make note that the Chicago police have become much less proactive in the high-crime neighborhoods where most of the violence is happening.

The statistical perspective: According to The Tribune, “contact cards” (self-initiated street stops by police officers) are down by 88% compared to the first two months of last year.

The police officers’ perspective: “… officers within the department have told The Tribune the McDonald shooting has made them less aggressive on the street out of fear that doing even basic police work will get them into trouble. They say criminals are taking advantage of their passive approach.” [Emphasis added.]

In addition, some officers say that the slow-down by police is being referred to as the “ACLU Effect.” This due to a pact between the City and the ACLU that requires officers to fill out a two-page report detailing any stops, from traffic violations to investigative searches.

The intellectual’s perspective: “Criminologists, though, say there’s no evidence to suggest criminals are exploiting officers’ reluctance to do their jobs.”

The ACLU’s perspective: “There is no discernible link between the rate of invasive street stops and searches by police and the level of violence … when such stops dramatically decreased in other cities, like New York City, we saw no such rise in crime. There simply is not any evidence of this so-called ‘effect,’” said Karen Sheley, the ACLU project director.

My perspective: Are you kidding me?!!!

My father had a habit, when commonsense evaded me, as it often does, of yelling: “You don’t need a degree from Notre Dame to know that!”

Well I never got that degree but I do know this: Proactivity works! 

But for some reason, it seems that people in power, the media, the politicians and the intellectuals want to believe that the lack of proactive policing has no correlation to the rise of violent crime. To them there is no “discernible link” between the two.

Why Bother Being Proactive?

Well then I have a question: If the lack of proactive policing cannot—or will not—be correlated with a rise in violent crime, then why do it at all?

I mean if you can’t associate the lack of proactivity with a rise in crime, is it also then impossible to associate a rise in proactivity with a decrease in violent crime?

In addition, police officers around the country are now being disciplined, and sometimes fired, not for doing anything wrong or outside of policy, but simply because they put themselves in a position to use force or generate a complaint.

Being proactive, many say, gets you in trouble.

Early on in my career I had a veteran officer give me what he said was the best information about being a cop I was ever going to get. Pulling me to the side he offered this heartfelt and sage advice: “Remember this always, kid: They can’t shove it up your ass, if you’re sitting on it.”

I ignored his sage guidance as I thought he was kind of an idiot and very much a slug. But in 2016, this seems to be the message officers are getting from many different quarters of the profession, as well as from outside groups like the ACLU.

Let’s Be Firefighters!

So again, since the lack of proactivity doesn’t equate to a rise in crime, whereas assertively doing the job results in citizen complaints, violations of rights and an uncomfortable level of use of force, let’s readjust our stratagems.

Let’s use a tried-and-true system. The same system firefighters have embraced for more than a century: Wait until someone calls you.

Why not?

You don’t see firetrucks loaded with firefighters patrolling the streets looking for fires, do you? “Hey Charlie I think I see a fire! That’s definitely smoke!  Let’s put on our cool hats, grab our axes, and bust some innocent windows!”

“No Fred, relax, it’s a barbecue.”


I mean if you tell the cops that you want them to stay in the station houses, sit in recliners, play X-Box, lift weights, and argue about what to make for dinner, only leaving when someone calls them, I’m not sure you’ll get many arguments nowadays.

No question the citizen complaints on individual cops would drop by about 90%, as well as use of force incidents.

The best cops are the ones who are out there profiling the bad guys, making contact and letting their presence be known. Scare them administratively, legally and criminally, and they will stop being proactive.

It’s already happening and I’ve addressed it many times: New York, Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis and others. It’s not happening everywhere, but there’s a clear trend in certain cities for those willing to engage the evidence objectively. Beyond that there are heaps of anecdotes I encounter in my travels as a professional police trainer.

Proactivity stops more crimes than any other thingamajig a street cop can do. (Yes, I do recognize, endorse and encourage building trusting relationships with the community, but that is a more systemic issue. Proactivity comes down to the individual officer.)


I realize that it’s incredibly hard to prove a negative, but violent crime does go down when the bad guys are targeted by aggressive cops. I’ve been there and done that. I don’t need lawyers and the studiers of criminal behavior to tell me otherwise.

Here’s my question for the politicians and criminologists and lawyer-activists who would say otherwise: If you all refuse to accept that a rise in violent crimes has a direct correlation to a precipitous drop in proactivity by the best-of-the-best cops, then why not go on record advocating that the practice stop?

But you won’t because it works and you know it.

Either way, none of those aforementioned people really never have to worry about the rise in crime effecting them. They don’t live where it happens. I doubt most ever even visit.

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.