Pennsylvania police commissioner says he's going gun-free

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Michael Muldrow has been police commissioner in York, Pennsylvania for a little more than a year now, but for the next couple of weeks there’s going to be something a little different about the way he carries himself on the job; he won’t be carrying a gun.

Muldrow announced on Facebook this week that as part of his effort to stop shootings in York, he’s going to put his gun down in an attempt to lead by example.

What exactly does Muldrow think is going to happen here? That young offenders with a propensity for violence are going to disarm themselves because the local police commissioner says he’s going to rely on his “faith, the brave men and woman of this city’s police department, and the mutual respect, trust, and love” in York to keep him safe for a few weeks?

I understand Muldrow’s desire to “do something” given the recent violence in the city, which includes five shootings over the course of four days. But social media stunts like this aren’t likely to have much of an impact on those responsible for the shootings. How many guys who are responsible for pulling the trigger in those shootings are actually following the police commissioner on Facebook, you think?

Muldrow’s decision to go gun-free for a couple of weeks seems to be more about public relations than public safety, at least to me. That’s a shame, because Muldrow does seem to be truly invested in the community where he grew up. In a recent interview with the York Daily Record, the commissioner laid out some of the initiatives that have begun under his watch, and some of them seem like they could be of real benefit.

“There’s a time to talk, there’s going to be a time where you’re going to have to get on a knee and hug somebody and there’s also going to be a time when you’ve got to throw them handcuffs on and hold people accountable in a tough way. And I think that is a delicate balance.”

Muldrow established twice-weekly Walk & Talks in various neighborhoods in the city for “feeling what the neighborhood is feeling.”

“Every Tuesday and Thursday, our group still meets and goes out and does the walks … Me getting out and them (police officers) seeing me do it … it was different and it was infectious … Then it grew into everybody just getting out and walking a lot … At this point, my command staff, that’s a bunch of 20-year guys that probably haven’t walked foot patrols in years, and they all came out and get out to walk.”

The  interview closed with talk of the recently-created juvenile engagement officer position, borne out of years of frustration when parents of potentially at-risk teens would ask Muldrow for help. The position will be able to dedicate time and resources to addressing issues such as runaway and truancy, bullying, self harm and gangs. 

“What if there was somebody that was able to take that call, that had the time and the resources to just focus on addressing that little problem before it became a massive one … and finally be able to stop saying ‘No we can’t help you out,’ and that’s what we just recently created.”

These initiatives are far more likely to help reduce crime than Muldrow’s decision to go gun-free for a couple of weeks, in large part because they’re aimed at improving specific areas of concern. Residents don’t feel connected to the police serving their community? Get officers out of their cars and onto the sidewalks where they can speak with the folks living in communities hardest-hit by crime. Worried about kids falling through the cracks and ending up in a bad space? Spend a little time and effort to prevent that from happening by offering up someone who can help those parents looking for some much-needed support.

Guns are not the problem in York (or any other city). There are flesh and blood human beings who are behind every pull of a trigger that results in a child being shot in a drive-by, or a teenager gunned down in a gang rivalry. Michael Muldrow putting down his gun for a couple of weeks isn’t going to have an impact because he’s not out there committing these violent crimes. In fact, more than 99% of the gun owners in York aren’t shooting anyone, so a crime-fighting strategy that centers around removing firearms from society is not only an insult to law-abiding residents but an utter waste of time.

If Muldrow insists on talking about guns, he’d be better off doing more to promote responsible gun ownership instead of the abstinence-based approach he’s currently taking. Maybe when April rolls around and he puts his department-issued pistol back on his hip he can pivot to fostering a culture of responsible and legal gun ownership, though he might want to hold off on posting anything about that on social media until after April Fool’s Day.