I believe there are a few points being lost in the ongoing debate concerning law enforcement’s attitude towards their job and the public. Time and time again the blanket statement levied in support of law enforcement’s defense is “ Not all cops are bad”. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and I think any sane person would also agree with this.
However, as a person who exercises critical thinking, I have to wonder, where are the “good cops”? Where are the whistleblowers? Good cops don’t allow flagrant abuse of police powers, good cops don’t blindly follow, Good cops don’t stand idly by and watch while their uniformed brothers have a momentary lapse of reason and judgment, good cops have integrity and self respect, they police not only the public but also themselves, and they project respect for the law rather than fear. I have had many a discussion on this issue, Including with my wife, who works in LE and has for the past 15 years in a support staff capacity. My wife’s opinion is that training is the primary force behind their attitude. I say fine, Does the training include supressing the abuse of police powers? and doesn’t that make the ‘good cop’ now a not so good cop? It seems to me that the current spotlight on police wouldn’t shine as bright as it does if they would take some of their own advice. If you see something, say something. – L.O.
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When a LEO does step over the line, in the past very little happened to him because the department didn’t want to give ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney. When the plaintiff won the case, who pays? Well, the department (taxpayers), of course from their deep pockets. Because of the concept of qualified immunity, the LEO has very little “skin” in the game; he isn’t betting his house, boat, and cars that he totally understands everything he thinks he knows. – JWM
HJL Responds: I believe these two letters address part of the problem. The vast majority of people actually support and respect the law enforcement officers that are in their communities. The mass media has a tendency to sensationalize issues that break what we deem normal in the name of the ratings game. Let’s face it: normal doesn’t sell, abnormal does. Extreme sells extremely well. Bill O’Reilly said it well on April 15th, 2015 in his talking points when he stated that “Along with ‘arrest authority’ comes ‘deep responsiblity’.” He continues to state that everyone expects the criminals to behave badly, but we expect the police to behave normal. Where he misses the point is by tying issue to the modern prevalence of video cameras. The issue has existed all along; it’s just much harder for an LE to get away with it now. As I see it, there are two issues that seriously hamper the LE officer in dealing with the public:
- The “us” versus “them” mentality, which is sometimes also expressed as “the thin blue line”. While I admire a boss or coworker who is loyal, I admire a boss or coworker who is ethical even more. The uniform is not a reason to hide wrong-doing or criminal activity. In addition, these are people who we trust with the authority and responsibility to use force, up to and including deadly force, to enforce laws, so it is only right and appropriate that they are held to a higher standard of ethical and moral behavior than the average person. However, in the end, the LE officer is still just one of “us”. If you break the law, you should be prepared to suffer the consequences of that action, no matter who you are. When the LE community is seen as unfairly protecting an officer or enforcing bad policies (like quotas), it creates mistrust with the community.
- The militarization of the police. From early civilization on, the civilian population understood that an organized army is necessary for national defense and policy. However, that same population also understands the danger of that same army being used against it. The Posse Comitatus Act is the U.S. response to those concerns. I truly believe that the U.S. military policy of donating surplus military gear, the DHS policy of granting millions of dollars to local LE for military hardware and military training, and the tendency of every local, state, and federal agency desiring their very own tactical SWAT is nothing short of an end run around this very issue. The LE officer is a civilian, just like me, but the military training and hardware deepens the problematic “us” vs “them” mentality and destroys trust.
The LE community will have to work much harder to overcome the ease with which abuses are discovered, the media biases against them, and the lust for tacti-cool military equipment and training to stop the downward spiral of problematic public relations. There are good officers out there. I believe they are in the majority, but they must step up to the plate, in every jurisdiction. They must take the lead in forging a relationship with the community that they protect.