If you can’t pay your police, who maintains law and order? It looks like America is about to find out.
A poor economy is hammering city and county budgets nationwide. With declining sales and property taxes and shrinking state and federal revenue, local governments are making painful cuts in public safety.
At a time when dwindling defense dollars hamper America’s ability to project its power abroad, this is the worrisome corollary back home. The nation’s ability to pay for law and order is beginning to slip.
A survey in June by the National Association of Counties found that 28 percent of American counties are making cuts in jails and correction, and 37 percent—well over a third across the nation—are trimming sheriff, police, and fire and rescue services. Already since 2008, many counties have let hundreds of employees go; two have had to lay off over a thousand workers.
Such reductions point to the severity of the problem, since these services are typically off limits when pennies need pinching.
City governments are also scaling back, subjecting public safety personnel to reduced pay, mandatory furloughs and layoffs. Last May, in a report by the National League of Cities, almost a quarter of local elected officials said they are paring down these vital areas. A July survey jointly sponsored by the association of counties, the league of cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that a large majority of cities—63 percent—are cutting back on public safety personnel—almost two out of three nationwide.
Officers are being asked to forego overtime pay and raises. With fewer men on duty, more of their time is consumed simply responding to calls, making criminal investigations and other follow-up near impossible. Detectives have had to leave crimes unresolved in order to return to routine patrolling.
Cincinnati, Ohio, recently dismissed dozens of police officers. Tulsa, Oklahoma, laid off 130 of them and issued a public statement that officers would no longer respond to “non-injury collisions, fraud and forgery reports, burglary from vehicle reports, larceny reports and other minor property crime reports.” One Illinois county let three out of four of its officers go, and the county sheriff’s patrol cars were repossessed. Reading, Pennsylvania, reduced its police and vice squad to four people. Sparks, Nevada, has gotten rid of 22 police positions, including 12 officers. Merced, California, has cut 20 officers from its department. Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, California, will likely cut their effective police helicopter program. Nearly 1,000 prisoners in Michigan—including convicted murderers—could be freed in order to save money. And the list goes on.
The fbi recommends 1.8 officers per 1,000 citizens. The International City/County Management Association say it should be just over 2 per 1,000. More and more American communities, however, are staffed with closer to half that number.
To this point, this storm cloud over the men and women in blue has had something of a silver lining. Even with unemployment rising in the U.S., reported incidents of crime are dropping. fbi statistics released Monday show the continuation of a positive trend that began in the mid-1990s.
These statistics, however, do not measure crimes committed but not reported—something that could be rising as staff levels shrink. And with the ranks of local law enforcement thinning out, one has to wonder how long the trend will keep moving in the same direction. That county-city-mayor survey estimated that local governments are going to shed nearly half a million employees this next fiscal year, and that public safety will be one of the hardest-hit areas. How long before criminals begin to fill the void left by depleted, overburdened police forces? How long before offenders are released from overtaxed prisons in numbers sufficient to noticeably bump crime rates?
“We have no patrol units. There is no one on the streets. We respond to only crimes in progress. We don’t respond to property crimes,” said Ron Fenton, deputy sheriff of Ohio’s Ashtabula County. Maclean’s reported how the county’s law enforcement staff, 112 members strong just a few years ago, is today only 49. Its detective division is gone. It now has one squad car—patrolling more than 100,000 people over 700 square miles. “We are down to one evidence officer and he just runs the evidence room in case someone wants to claim property,” said Fenton. “People are getting property stolen, their houses broken into, and there is no one investigating. We are basically just writing up a report for the insurance company.”
In a real sense, a high-stakes experiment is just beginning—on a large and growing scale around the country. It is test to see how well Americans will behave themselves with a marked decline in supervision and law enforcement.
The results are only beginning to come in. Anecdotal evidence shows overwhelmed agencies unable to adequately cope with crime even at its presently reduced levels.
Sadly, biblical prophecy tells us that crime rates won’t remain low for much longer.
A peculiar prophecy in the book of Ezekiel is worthy of study. God instructed the Prophet Ezekiel to shave off his hair and divide it into equal thirds. The first third he was to burn with fire; the second, he was to strike with a sword; the third, he was to scatter in the wind. This curious ceremony was intended to illustrate the future downfall of America and the modern nations of Israel (for proof of America’s identity as part of biblical Israel, read our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy).
America’s destruction will happen in three parts. The first third of the population will be burned “with fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled” (Ezekiel 5:1-2). The siege is referring to an economic battering by foreign nations (see Deuteronomy 28:52). As America’s economy suffers, unemployment will become ever more epidemic, bringing with it a host of other ills.
In this climate of increasing want and desperation, the time will come that social order will begin to erode, particularly “in the midst of the city.” Inner-city criminality will begin to spread—not merely within a single city, but from city to city.
Ezekiel provides more detail about this future drama: “A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee” (Ezekiel 5:12). Notice that pestilence is mentioned first—it is actually the principal cause of the famine. Pestilence simply means destruction or death; one definition of the root word is “to lay snares, to plot against, to destroy.” It doesn’t necessarily mean a physical disease; it could refer to a plague of violence and burning—terrorist attacks, race riots, any kind of violent bloodshed in the cities.
Realize what this prophecy is saying. A mind-numbing one third of Americans are prophesied to be consumed by violence in the cities!
This is the nightmare that awaits America, if “the more sure word of prophecy” transmitted by Ezekiel from God is to be believed.
God’s prophecy will stand. “The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him” (Ezekiel 7:15). The pestilence—the plague of rioting, violence and burning—will ravage our cities. People in the country, or field, will die from other causes (verse 24).
The shrinking of America’s police forces and public safety personnel will surely accelerate the pace of this prophecy. In truth, though, the scale of the coming destruction will prove far greater than even the most robust law enforcement agencies could prevent.
Consider for a moment why God would record these prophecies. There is a wonderful—even awesome—purpose! In the midst of terrifying and tumultuous events, prophetic warning is nothing less than our Creator reaching out to His creation.
A terrible period of darkness is prophesied to occur. But also prophesied is that within this darkness—shining in a sin-sick and war-weary, increasingly terrorized world—would be a burning light: a bold message calling for repentance and proclaiming, beyond the darkness, the glow of eternal hope.
Luke 21:27-28 declare that hope to the disciples of Jesus Christ: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” ▪