Using Observable Police Activity to Assess the Risk Level of an Urban Locale
In rural and suburban areas we see police visibly enforcing traffic laws while cruising or in speed trap position. Other than that, they are primarily visible when they take their lunch, and when they are called to a business or residence.
If you have ever been in a place like Baltimore, you will have noticed young black boys on bicycles, barely moving fast enough to stay on two wheels, or just standing on the peddles and looking about. These are scouts, employed by local gangs and drug dealers to read police activity. In this segment of The Single Dude’s Guide to Survival, our aim is to arm the single dude who wants the ability to survive in such places with the same observation tools as that feral, vigilant, hoodrat.
In urban areas police activity is quite different from their suburban counterparts but it is likewise driven by revenue. In the suburbs and rural areas, fines for traffic violations provide much needed department income. In any American city that has had significant white flight the tax base has eroded to the point that federal funds are needed to police the increasingly violent city. Federal funding is primarily dependent upon the municipality helping in the federal War on Drugs.
One aspect of the War on Drugs can best be illustrated by the ATM machine at my local bank, where 3 to 5 young thugs have regularly staked out watch over positions from which they might comfortably observe and select their prey. One of these positions is a five step concrete staircase three paces from the open machine, where the boys can see how much cash goes into your wallet! On three occasions I have seen police cruise by slowly and not roust these thugs from their perch. On two of these occasions I have seen the cops immediately arrest my neighbor, within a block of that ATM, for possession of a single rock of cocaine. He is a crack-head, yes, a danger now.
Every mid-sized American city with a struggling tax base that I have studied (Cleveland, Toledo, Camden, Oakland, Newark) shows the same emphasis on Drug War prosecution over community protection.
If you find yourself in such a place, or in one of the sections of a larger city that mirrors these environments, or in one of the small-sized imitators like Lancaster and Harrisburg Pennsylvania, or Wilmington Delaware, below is an ascending table of police patrolling styles, with each style demonstrating an increased risk to you, based on the criminal element’s perception of the level of interference or retribution they might expect from the police when they attack you.
Your Race As A Variable
Keep in mind, that there are two Respectable Whiteman variables in play here. If you dress from casual to business, and are a Caucasian male, you are more likely to be the object of African American aggression. This comes from a mixture of hateful indoctrination at home, in school, and via the media, and from the very real understanding that whites are less violent and less likely to be armed than Blacks or Latinos. Also, as a respectably-dressed and well-behaved white man you will not be hassled by the cops, and can expect their full cooperation if anyone attacks you.
If you are an Asian congratulations: per capita you are more likely to be attacked by blacks than any type of human other than blacks, who are the standard target of black criminals. You will not benefit from increased police responsiveness, particularly if the cops are black. I interviewed one Vietnamese business owner who was bound and tortured by a black cop while he let thugs loot her store (you can read the complete interview in my book Lesser Angels of Our Nature: Coming of Age in A Racist Society).
If you are black, you know the deal: your own people will attack you with alarming eagerness, and the cops responding to the scene of your mugging are as likely to investigate and harass you, as they will the attackers.
In the Mid-Atlantic region, the least likely to be attacked by blacks, and second only to blacks in terms of negative police interactions, are Latinos. Cops in Baltimore, particularly black cops, have preyed on Latinos in and out of uniform. The cop-on-Latino crime is not common and is only a little worse than what the poor whites suffer at the hands of the police, which is a moderate likely hood of harassment and a small likely hood of attack.
Police Patrol Style (from best to worse)
- Beat cops on foot, evidence of commitment of the department to send immediate backup and of community support.
- Beat cops parked, evidence of community support, but lack of faith in backup.
- Single officer patrolling in a cruiser, indication that policing patterns revolve around intelligence gathering, suggestive of ongoing crime.
- Single officers patrolling with flashers lit up, which is an attempt to seem more committed than they are in the face of spiraling crime.
- Paired officers patrolling in the same cruiser for defensive purposes, which mean it has gotten so bad that the cops could care less about you, and have been briefed to protect themselves first and foremost.
- No visible police coverage, indicating that the police are busy elsewhere, and that this is known by opportunistic criminals, which would be 100% of the criminal population. An alternative, and even more ominous reading of this, is that the police are afraid to enter this area!
Sporadic Police Activity
Such activity always indicates increased risk as the police expand their methods of deterring crime and making arrests:
- Police helicopter circling.
- Police cruisers speeding to or from your area, which indicates active crime or fewer police in your area, depending on whether they are coming or going, this past April, as the riots kicked off downtown, I stood with the owner of the local liquor store on his sidewalks as five cop cars few down Harford Road not to return for a week. John shook with fear and returned to his store to close up before the hoodrats began emerging from their dens to pillage.
- Police vans.
- Cops on bikes (the most aggressive and fit cops outside of the tactical squads).
- Squads of cops on foot together will either be scared or mad or both.
- Police tactical squads and mobile command centers active.
- Police from beyond the jurisdiction, contractors, and national Guard assisting in police duties.
- The worst is that #6 is going on elsewhere, and there are no cops at all where you are—get out!
Police Facilities and Equipment
- A police substation indicates that this area is prone to violence but valuable enough to protect.
- Large lighting arrays installed on sidewalks indicate that attempts to deter crime here have lacked success.
- Blue crime light and cameras indicate that this is a Drug War hot zone—stay away.
- Police stations that are not open 24 hours, or which are barred to the public, indicate that the police force itself has failed, in its own estimation, to enforce the law and suppress gang activity.
Get out of town!