There’s been a lot of talk lately about police in the USA. One recent conversation came about following the mass shooter in Dallas who targeted police officers.
And yes, the man was black, but no, he was not involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The Dallas chief of police made the suggestion that #BlackLivesMatter protesters who were concerned about predominantly white officers policing predominantly black neighborhoods should sign up for their local police force.
This suggestion was met with mixed responses. Some people seemed to think it was a good idea. If people from specific neighborhoods became police officers in those neighborhoods, there would be more openness and dialogue between the police and the people they are obligated to serve and to protect.
I think that argument has some merit. If every neighborhood, town, and city in the country had friendly police who not only get along with the local people but also play an active role in their communities above and beyond their duties as police officers (think Mayberry, think Andy Taylor, think Barney Fife), violent conflict between the police and the public might — *might* — occur less frequently.
Not everyone agrees with that line of reasoning. Some people maintain that it is not necessarily the police per se that are the problem, the problem is the policing. Many studies have shown that wealthy neighborhoods — specifically wealthy white neighborhoods — are simply not policed the same way that poor neighborhoods — specifically poor black neighborhoods — are policed.
If people from poor black neighborhoods become police, according to people who opposed the Dallas police chief’s suggestion, that’s not solving the very real problem of disproportionate policing, it’s maintaining it.
I see the merit in this latter argument also. And this argument doesn’t rely on unrealistic ideas from classic sitcoms, to be blunt.
Before I type anything else, I would like to state unequivocally that I have nothing but respect for the many upright, honorable police men and women in our country. Taking it upon oneself — *sincerely* taking it upon oneself — to protect and serve the public and maintain law and order is one of the most noble things any American can do.
I would also like to state, however, that there are very few things in the world that I consider more vile and unforgivable than corrupt police officers. These wastes of flesh — not to mention public funds — do not protect and serve, they murder, they rape, they supply drugs to drug dealers in exchange for a cut of profits, they ruin lives as well as entire communities through their abuse of authority.
I am not making these things up, for the record. Anyone who keeps up with national news — even casually — knows all too well that this sort of thing happens quite frequently in our country.
For anyone reading this — especially upright police officers — please don’t think that I am writing about these things in an attempt to demonize all police officers or to encourage hostility towards police officers. I most certainly am not.
I am writing about these things because these things are a legitimate problem in our society. And yes, I have a few suggestions that I feel might help the situation. These suggestions would not magically fix everything, but I think they would help.
I do not mean this disrespectfully toward anyone currently employed in law enforcement, but I think a very good place to start in solving these problems would be to make it much more difficult to become a police officer.
Put simply, not everyone is cut out to be a police officer. The vast majority of people do not possess the strength of character, level-headedness, and personal skills necessary to be an effective police officer. And again, I don’t mean this disrespectfully toward anyone currently employed in law enforcement, but hardly a week goes by where there isn’t a story about a police officer shooting someone under questionable circumstances.
People who shoot first and ask questions later should not be police officers. To be sure, there are many situations that arise where it is necessary for a police officer to shoot a criminal, especially if that criminal is shooting at the police. But far too many unarmed people — unarmed *citizens* who are legally and constitutionally entitled to be not only treated fairly but also *protected and served* by the police — are shot and killed by people who should never have been given a badge and a gun in the first place.
That’s my first suggestion: make it harder to become a police officer. I am sure that there are psychological tests in place already; I say make them more intensive and thorough.
If an applicant displays tendencies toward panicking in tense situations, that applicant shouldn’t be given a gun.
If an applicant displays tendencies toward sociopathic behavior, that person should not only be denied a gun but also escorted out of city hall post-haste. Anyone who would knowingly bring harm to others for personal gain should not be given one iota of the public’s trust.
And perhaps most importantly, if an applicant displays the slightest bit of racial prejudice, that applicant should not be given a job on any police force. Police are supposed to protect and serve everyone, not just people of a certain skin color.
“Hold on,” many people may be thinking. “Not many people want to be police officers to begin with. If we make it harder to be a police officer, won’t we likely be reducing the number of police officers on duty?”
If anyone thought that, I would advise them to reevaluate my first suggestion after they read my second:
Increase pay and benefits for the police officers who make it through the more difficult screening process. Not only that, make sure that all police departments across the country are fully funded.
A big part of disproportionate policing is (arguably) a direct result of economics. Underfunded police departments all too often rely on revenue from minor offenses, and not only that (i.e. fines stemming from minor offenses), but also on fines for being unable to pay the previous fines on time. These fines — for things like minor traffic offenses — affect people from different economic strata disproportionately: for someone making minimum wage, a hundred-dollar traffic ticket is is a significant blow to their finances, and if they have to make the decision whether to pay a hundred dollars for parking in the wrong place or paying their rent, well, they are likely to use that money to pay their rent. Which leads to an increased fine, or maybe an additional criminal charge, or maybe even jail time.
For a person on a middle class salary — and I mean “middle class,” not “just above the poverty line but driving a nice car to keep up appearances” — a hundred bucks is nothing. Having to give a hundred bucks to the police department represents the difference between eating at Applebee’s next Saturday night instead of at that new upscale joint downtown that everybody at work has been talking about. It’s a minor inconvenience, I mean.
Police departments depend entirely too much on fines to generate revenue. Is my point. If they weren’t underfunded, police in poor neighborhoods would have far less incentive to hand out expensive tickets left and right to people who (often) might not even realize they are breaking the law.
Now don’t get carried away here: when I say “make sure that all police departments across the country are fully funded” I mean “fully funded” with regard to covering administrative costs, paying salaries, keeping police vehicles in working order, that sort of thing.
I do not — do *not* — mean “fully funded” with regard to police having military equipment and fancy cars and flipping tanks and things like that. Sure, fully equip and fund SWAT teams and things like that. But neighborhoods in the United States of America should not be treated as war zones. People in the USA who aren’t committing any violent crimes should have no reason to fear the police, but if a person grows up in a neighborhood that is fundamentally no different than an occupied city during wartime, they’re not likely to think of the police in a positive light.
And again, I am not — *not* — trying to demonize the police or rile up negative ideas about police in general. I am trying to help find a solution that benefits both the police and the citizens they are employed to serve and protect.
Police officers are — first and foremost — public servants. If any police officer doesn’t understand this and accept this and make this the center of their philosophy toward policing, that person has no business being a police officer.
I don’t think that’s a controversial statement.
At the same time, if we, the citizens of our country, want to have an effective police force to serve and protect us, we should be willing to fund the police departments these officers work for, and not force them to depend of revenues from fundraising events and ridiculously expensive ticketing. They should have what they need to do their jobs and live comfortably.
I don’t think that’s a controversial statement, either.