Anyone who knows me knows that I have the utmost respect for the men and women who each day protect and serve us as members of police departments. Yet, I am not naïve enough to believe that police forces are immune to many of the same problems that plague other organizations. Improper training, weak supervision, lack of accountability, and of course the reality that they will inevitably employ some bad apples, and regrettably when an individual who is bestowed with the trust and authority of a police officer turns out to be a bad apple, bad things happen. When bad things occur, there should be no debate. It is our moral and legal responsibility as a country to hold these officers to the same standards as ordinary citizens, if not higher.
Demanding that they be held accountable does not mean we are demonizing the police as a whole; we can never let the actions of a few bad apples minimize the courage and sacrifice that the overwhelming majority of officers exhibit every day. Nor does it mean we are advocating for police forces’ total dismantling, despite how some have tried to mischaracterize the defund the police movement. We are fully aware that police forces are an essential part of society. But they must exist first and foremost to serve and protect. Serve and protect being the keywords.
In contrast, the role of the military is first and foremost to battle and subdue foreign enemies. Yet in recent years, funding that could be used for various social programs with proven positive results on crime reduction, programs such as early childhood education, parenting support, youth conflict resolution in schools, street outreach, and interventions in hospitals to mentor people out of violence have been used instead to militarize the police.
Police departments have been supplied with excess military equipment and many times without the full military training given to military personnel in its proper use. While this may have started with the most well-intentioned purposes, this program’s continuation, considering the continued racial unrest and other incidents around the country, needs to be reevaluated. Does this militarization of police forces across America equal a safer environment for the communities they serve, or does it create more violence? Do individuals in communities look at police officers as individuals to protect and serve them or as an occupying army? Conversely, do police officers outfitted with military gear and a lack of proper training see the communities they are asked to protect not as their neighbors but as enemy combatants?
Fortunately, there are other solutions. Redirecting money from police departments to proven crime-reducing social programs could not only reduce crime and make neighborhoods safer, but they could also make the job of the police officer more manageable and, more importantly, safer. Another strategy is community policing. Not long ago, everyone knew the name of the beat cop. The time is now to get back to that, to build collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and the individuals and organizations they serve. To work together to increase the public trust in the police forces that are sworn to protect them. Statistics show us that most violent crimes are solved when citizens come forward and tell the police what they know. For that to occur, the community must trust and believe that they and the police are on the same side. Oakland Ceasefire is a perfect example of an ongoing partnership between community members, social service providers, and law enforcement officials, who work together to reduce violence, build police-community trust, and improve high-risk individuals’ outcomes. As a result, Oakland has cut its annual shootings and homicides nearly in half since 2012. Read more about the Oakland Ceasefire project at:
With America having the highest incarceration rate in the world and mounting distrust between communities and the police, a situation which is not suitable for either side, it is a fair question to ask is it time to try new and prove strategies rather than have police armed with tear gas rolling through the streets in a tank. Remember the words of our 4th President James Madison, who said: “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become instruments of tyranny at home.”