But at this moment there might be a small window of opportunity to make substantive changes in policing. Why do have a system where, for instance, the first responder to a mentally ill person is a police officer? It doesn't make sense. Not for the cops. Not for the mentally ill. So why not rethink a reactive model of undervalued and understaffed police patrol. The status quo swallows up resources and -- by design -- limits the discretion and problem-solving ability of police officers.
Many people who call 911 do need help, but it's not help that a very young police officer barely out of high school -- armed and with the power of arrest -- can provide. These calls for service would often be better addressed by doctors, social workers, teachers and parents.Read the rest here.
Over the past 40 years, with the advent of call-and-response policing, the mentality of policing changed. Consider the portrayal in the 1980s TV show "Hill Street Blues" (it's pop culture, but it contains truth): The first sergeant, played by Michael Conrad, finished roll call with the sage advice: "Let's be careful out there." After his death, the new sergeant was played by Robert Prosky. His motto? "Let's do it to them before they do it to us."
There are benefits to old-fashioned beat policing that we need to reclaim, but we can't as long as most police resources are controlled by civilian dispatchers, officers have too little discretion, and the war on drugs dominates urban policing by criminalizing too many people.
For a cop bouncing from call to call constantly dealing with criminals or people who have lost control of their lives, it's too easy to believe that nobody in the area is in control. From the window of a patrol car, every face on the corner starts looking the same. By walking on foot and engaging with the noncriminal public, police officers, especially those without any prior knowledge of the area they police, could begin to understand both how communities function and how they fail.