The System Through the Eyes of ExperienceAmy Sharp | September 6, 2018
In today’s society there is a great understatement of how the criminal justice system works, and what goes on behind the scenes. We live in a generation that relies on social media and the mainstream news to give us all of the facts on what is happening around the globe, and yet that is very rarely what we receive. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of negativity towards law enforcement, and many believe that whatever is seen in a Facebook video is the whole story. As a criminal justice student specifying in strategic intelligence, I am fully aware that there are so many layers, procedures, policies, and laws that government officials are required to follow that prevents the general public from getting the entire story. While I am studying to know how everything in the system works, the majority of citizens have no idea what truly happens on the law enforcement side. While there are cases where there is a corrupt officer, a bad judgement call, or a blatant mistake, more often than not there are many other circumstances that the media does not tell, and that the general public does not understand.
As a young criminal justice student growing up in a generation that has a growing hatred towards law enforcement, I am constantly searching for ways that I can help to clear the air and help everyone understand what the media will not publicize, and what many officers are not able to explain. In this search I came across the idea to speak with my current professor at Liberty University. Many people do not have the opportunity to speak with someone with as extensive experience as he, and I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity. I am currently in his class studying Juvenile Justice, and previously took his course on Criminal Psychology. I asked him about a possible interview to gain some knowledge on his experience and have been honored to sit with him for a few hours to hear about his experience in law enforcement.
Larry Presley began his impressive career within the criminal justice system in the 1970’s. He began as a Forensic Scientist at Michigan State Police/Oakland County Sheriff’s Department for eight years before entering the FBI as a Special Agent, and eventually Supervisory Special Agent for twenty-one years. After spending sixteen years as Director with NMS and Arcadia University, Mr. Presley became Chief with DOD Army for three years and then Manager at NYPD for another year before settling down to teach in the Helm’s School of Government at Liberty University. I have had the amazing privilege to attend several of his classes during my time at Liberty. I was able to sit down with him and discuss his insights into the criminal justice system and how it has evolved throughout his lifetime.
When asked about how the criminal justice system has evolved since the beginning of his career, Mr. Presley responded by referring to data statistics provided by the Uniform Crime Reports on the FBI website. It is interesting to see from year to year how crime rates rise and drop. We began by looking at the rates from the 1960’s, about a decade before his career began, and it was clear to see that throughout that decade crime rates drastically rose. Much of this was due to the civil rights movements and domestic terrorism. The 60’s held a lot of prominent changes for law enforcement. Terry v. Ohio was a supreme court case in 1968 that held that the Fourth Amendment is not in violation when a police officer stops and frisks a person without probable cause to arrest but has reasonable suspicion that they may be armed and dangerous, or have committed, be in the process of, or about to commit a crime. Miranda v. Arizona is the famous court case that ensured that before any suspect can be interrogated, they must be informed of their rights. These court decisions, along with many others, added structure to the system.
Skipping ahead to the 1980’s when Mr. Presley was living in Detroit, the murder capital of the world at that time with an average of two murders per day. Some, not most, but some police officers were corrupt. According the UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) crime rates were still rising consistently throughout the decade. Majority of crimes committed were civil rights violations, due to racial issues that America was still newly dealing with. Mr. Presley stated that nearly everything was anti-government, and that domestic terrorism was on the rise.
“While I was in law enforcement I saw many crimes. Many many many crimes.”
While civil rights and anti-government crimes were a big part of everything, all crime was rising during this time. A big part of the crime problem, in Mr. Presley’s experience, is poverty. Due to the crime, people would flee to the suburbs, the cities became even poorer, and then unemployment began to rise. This does not mean that because someone is poor they commit crime, but poverty did have role in the rise of crime.
Crime in the 1990’s throughout the 2000’s was much more of a drug problem than anything. Mr. Presley was directly involved in helping develop the DNA database in the 1990’s that helped start taking serial rapists off of the streets. Today the DNA database has helped confidently convict many criminals and has also helped exonerate convicts that had been falsely accused.
To tie decades of statistics and history together, Mr. Presley stated, “I don’t think that law enforcement has particularly gotten better, I think that many improvements have been due to the Supreme Court cases that implemented stop and frisk laws, zero tolerance, and different and better gun laws.”
While the justice system could always be improved, there are many things that citizens can do to support their local police department to ensure that positivity is spread. One of the things that Mr. Presley said that really rang true with me is something that I think everyone needs to hear. “Tens of thousands of arrests are made daily and you only hear about the one in which an officer makes a bad call. Change your perception that those types of things happen every day because it does not.” So many people in this next generation have such a blurry and negative view of law enforcement because of what is portrayed in the media. There are so many more positive ways to support and influence local law enforcement rather than spreading hate.
One direct way that Mr. Presley mentioned is to be a part of the criminal justice system with an overarching worldview of Christianity and mercy. That the youth join the criminal justice system so that they can make a true difference and make sure that justice is done. If becoming a criminal justice official is not something that is of interest to you, there are so many more ways to support justice. “Every young individual is responsible and obligated to not break the law. That does not mean that we do not break the law; we drive over the speed limit, we run stop signs, but those things have very little to no consequence. The best thing that we can do is obey the mandates and the laws that have been put forth. To love your neighbor whether or not you agree with them, and to be respectful towards the criminal justice system.”
If individuals were to cooperate when confronted by law enforcement of any sort, then it would ensure fewer misunderstandings or bad calls. There is definitely an understanding within the criminal justice system, that the balance between individual rights and public safety is very uneven. People want to have their privacy and the rights that have been granted to them by the Constitution, yet when those rights interfere with the safety of the general public, it is very hard for law enforcement to decide which way to tip the scale. For example, being searched at an airport is technically a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights because there is no probably cause. Yet, if every single person was not searched before boarding an airplane, there is a huge risk that there are weapons on board and every person is in danger. If individuals are able to cooperate and comply, it is easier for officers to know that there is not a risk, and they can balance the scale in the publics favor.
Towards the end of my discussion with Mr. Presley, I asked him generally about how in his opinion he believes that law enforcement could improve. Very honestly, he said, “Most police officers today are far better trained than they ever were before. It is much better than it ever was.” He explained to me that in all of his years of experience that law enforcement continues to improve. Basic police officers today hold college degrees and that was completely unheard of before. There is a lot more training and steps required to enter into any type of law enforcement these days, and just 10,20, or 30 years ago all you needed was a high school diploma. This has changed the entire profession. There are, of course instances in which excessive force is used and a civilian is injured or sometimes even killed. “Those kinds of cases really negatively impact law enforcement. Most of the time the media does not give you the whole story. In many instances law enforcement has to use their quick judgement and then for the next six months everyone questions that judgement.” It is very important for young people today to understand that there is usually a lot more to the story than meets the eyes.
Police officers every single day risk their lives in order to do their job. There are many evil people in the world that commit terrible crimes, and a lot of judgement calls need to be made very quickly. “In my career I only had to pull out my gun maybe five times, and never fired it.” Mr. Presley explained to me that as a federal agent, there is a lot less likely chance of being put into a scenario where lethal force would need to be used. As a police officer, many times they are in high risk situations that they may need their gun. Hundreds of officers each year are killed in the line of duty, yet you very rarely hear about those cases. There is absolutely no way to control what the media will produce, so it is up to each individual to take each story with a grain of salt and understand that there is a lot more to that story than just what is said on the news.
Improvements can always be made, and after a long talk with Mr. Presley it is easy to see that they are always being made. Each and every individual, as well as organization can always improve, yet until improvements can be made, each citizen can make a small difference in their community by overcoming ignorance and gaining understanding into the complicated and multilayered criminal justice system that law enforcement is part of. We live in an imperfect world where corruption will always be a factor, but we do not have to partake in it. We have the option to spread positivity and support to those that we do not fully understand. Law enforcement officers wake up every day with the intent to protect and serve their communities. As a citizen, you can wake up each day with the intent to do good and love your neighbor; even if you do not agree with them.
**For more information concerning the statistics of crime in America, along with statistics of law enforcement officers killed and/or assaulted in the line of duty, please visit https://ucr.fbi.gov/
A special thank you to Larry Presley for taking the time to meet and discuss with me these topics that are so very important for the young people of the next generation to understand.