It's not easy to find a middle ground between the tough-on-crime and "#BlackLivesMatter" movements, but it has to be done.
As police officers find their routine stops or arrests recorded increasingly by civilians with their smartphones, a rising chorus of critics fear that wary cops already might be bringing the nation's 20-year crime dip to an end.
I suspect that we have nothing to fear but a wrong-headed reading of statistics.CartoonsCartoons: Baltimore riotsCartoonDavies' latest cartoon: The birthers returnCommentSubmit your letter
One of the most respected conservative thought leaders in this arena -- even when I don't agree with her -- is Heather Mac Donald, a Manhattan Institute fellow and author of "Are Cops Racist?" (Spoiler alert: Mac Donald says not much.)
Writing in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, she cites recent violent crime surges in Baltimore, New York and Chicago, among other cities to charge a "Ferguson effect," a new wariness by police to conduct arrests, weapons searches or other crime-fighting measures for fear of being prosecuted themselves.
Police, speaking privately, have not discouraged that notion. "The cops I've spoken to say it's different now," Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Time magazine. "Cops are saying, If we're going to get in trouble for well-intentioned mistakes, then f--- it, I'm not working."
If widespread, that attitude could put a severe pinch in the controversial "broken windows" policing that has had impressive success at reducing crime in cities across the nation since the mid-1990s, mainly by treating no offense as too minor for police to pursue (graffiti, turnstile jumping, etc.).
Unfortunately, for poor black and Hispanic people in New York City, where the policy began, it also has meant profiling, stop-and-frisk searches and serious penalties for individuals who were not committing any serious crime.
"Broken windows" policing, for example, led to the famously video-recorded death of Eric Garner, an unarmed Staten Island man who police were trying to arrest for peddling untaxed cigarettes.
Protests following that death and others, such as the killing of Freddie Gray -- for which six police were charged with murder in Baltimore -- may have led to surging violence around the city by emboldened criminals. This May, for example, there were 43 homicides in Baltimore, according to numbers compiled by the Baltimore Sun and the FBI.
That's the most in any month since December 1971 -- when the city was almost one-third more populous than it is today. Yet arrests by Baltimore police in the first two weeks of May fell by 57 percent compared to the same period in 2014.
But as much as Baltimore officials need to tackle that disparity, signs of a nationwide chill on aggressive policing and a related surge in violence are spotty at best. Mac Donald only mentions in passing, for example, the many cities that experienced a decline in their crime rates last year.
And among those in which crime has risen, any relation to protests sounds mostly like speculation. For example, in Chicago, a city with a long and deep history of street activism, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune in August found notably few protests over shootings by police, which statistically have been in decline since 2011.
Police shootings in Chicago have largely been overshadowed by the much larger problem of gang-related street shootings. Wrongful-death lawsuits in which the city pays substantial sums, the Tribune reported, "often provide the only information on (police) shootings that becomes public."
"The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness," writes Mac Donald in the Journal, is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months." Well, "most plausible" to her, anyway.
Like Mac Donald and many others, I actually support "broken windows" policing in principle. But that's only as long as it does not lead to overly aggressive sweeps of individuals off the streets who were committing no crime other than to be, say, young, poor, male and minority.
I support the police and salute the heroic sacrifices many have made. But in light of videotaped incidents of excessive force that have famously been broadcast and webcast recently, police should not feel overburdened by the need to protect the basic rights of the public they are sworn to serve.
Instead, the rest of us should take up the burden of providing police with body cameras, among other useful tools, for their protection as well as ours.