Standing Back and Standing Down: Citizen Non-Cooperation and Police Non-Intervention as Causes of Justice Failure and Crime

Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 51, p. 923, 2023

U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 23-07

85 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2023 Last revised: 9 Nov 2023

See all articles by Paul H. Robinson

Paul H. Robinson

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Jeffrey Seaman

University of Pennsylvania

Muhammad Sarahne

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: February 24, 2023

Abstract

America’s justice system fails to find or punish the offender for the vast majority of serious crimes. Failures of justice are the norm, not the exception. Particularly troubling, failures of justice disproportionately impact racial minorities and low-income communities, making the issue one of social as well as criminal justice. Clearance rates for Black homicide victims have dropped by 20% over the past five decades, and the recent decline in nationwide murder clearance rates is almost entirely due to failures to solve the killing of Black victims.

What is causing this increasing flood of justice failures and what can be done to stop it? While the crisis of unsolved crime has many causes, one oft-overlooked reason is that the most important actors in solving crime—community members and police—are increasingly not acting at all. Such inaction is not irrational but rather results from clear incentives against citizen cooperation and active police intervention. When citizens stand back and police stand down, the result is more failures of justice.

This article examines the causes behind this inaction in the face of serious crime, and for each cause explores the extent of the problem, documents public and political reaction to it, and presents a recommendation of what we believe is the most feasible reform. Part II examines the causes and effects of citizen inaction, including citizen silence caused by witness intimidation and no-snitching codes, as well as community non-cooperation caused by legal cynicism and upset over police use of force. Part III considers the causes and effects of police inaction, including de-policing policies and underfunding, as well as anti-police rhetoric and physical attacks that have produced officer demoralization and voluntary police pullbacks out of a sense of self-preservation. In Part IV, we offer our recommendation for the reforms that we believe are most likely to be effective in promoting greater citizen cooperation and greater police engagement.

Keywords: Criminal justice policy, law enforcement, police-community relations, civilian oversight, justice failures, witness intimidation, stop snitching, defund the police movement, Ferguson effect

JEL Classification: N/A

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Paul H. and Seaman, Jeffrey and Sarahne, Muhammad, Standing Back and Standing Down: Citizen Non-Cooperation and Police Non-Intervention as Causes of Justice Failure and Crime (February 24, 2023). Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 51, p. 923, 2023, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 23-07, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4374903

Paul H. Robinson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Jeffrey Seaman

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Muhammad Sarahne

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

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