[Let us discount] the notion that if the police are nice to everyone the world will truly shine. In fact, when the police are doing the enforcement duties that differentiate them from other civilian occupations they are enmeshed in conflict, undertaking work that is adversarial and frequently leaves people smarting.It's worth quoting this article by O'Donnell at length:
“The policeman is denounced by the public, criticized by the preachers, ridiculed in the movies, berated by the newspapers, and unsupported by prosecuting officers and judges. He is shunned by the respectable, hated by criminals, deceived by everyone, kicked around like a football by brainless or crooked politicians.”
---August Vollmer, police reformer and chief, Berkley, California, 1929.
This is the dawn of the post-policing era in America, and the nation needs to come to grips with how to maintain safety and secure order with cops playing a dramatically reduced role. From coast to coast there is an acute shortage of men and women seeking to be police officers.
Half a century ago, the Kerner Commission envisioned policing as a profession, with baccalaureate- carrying cops. But almost no police department in the county requires, or plans to require, a four-year degree for hiring. It is absurdly out of reach.
In fact, departments with even the most minimal requirements struggle to recruit new officers.
It is dawning on police officers and institutions that the police job is presently undoable in our far too violent and armed nation, and is rapidly becoming utterly impossible without a willingness to shoulder enormous physical and psychic risks and exposure to dire, possibly incarcerative consequences.
To discharge the duties of a job that involves using force, even lethal force, on others in unscripted situations, while a camera records one’s improvised, clumsy and sometimes terrified decision-making for dissection by battalions of armchair second guessers makes this a career choice easily shunned.
(Some reforms are overdue and necessary but cannot be reconciled with the need to find humans to do the work.)
Once individuals have identified their political persuasions, than all issues are framed, and solutions filtered, through those orthodoxies. In fact, political philosophies are pretty useless when trying to accurately identify what a community’s problems are, and fashioning solutions.
Thus, at present, an absurd partisan conversation about who is “pro-police” and who isn’t is a feature of this year’s presidential election. This team-police versus team-citizen approach avoids serious issues and the need to make choices. Only a political knave or a novice offers an affirmative blueprint for keeping the public safe from crime and terrorism: The rewards all flow to they who critique the best and express in the loudest voice the need for empathy and a view of humanity that is distinction free.
Policing’s Hard Truths
Policing is differentiated from other occupations by the use of coercion; thus it is fair to say policing is not infrequently lawfully brutal, but relatively rarely crosses the crime to criminally brutal. To say this in today’s environment is to utter words that are construed as almost hate speech, and subject the speaker to the loudest approbation.
Policing is expected to be the one and only profession that can achieve a fairness that is elusive in every aspect of a market economy. Thus far in Chicago out of nearly 300 homicide victims, almost all are black and a handful, nine, are white. No fairness there. Some construct arguments about the police that omit these shockingly disparate facts, ignoring that these numbers are potent weapons in the hands of the most divisive figures in public life. (And it is worth looking at the faces of the lives snuffed out by this long-running genocide)
The unstated idea that the police are no longer needed has become a mainstay, amongst many elites including those who pen editorials for the New York Times and the Washington Post. Enforcement and incarceration are regarded as evils per se. Last week’s Department of Justice report on the Baltimore police nowhere mentions the toxic implications of allowing shooters to shoot and remain free in their own communities.
Community policing---which is ill defined and amorphous--is once again being offered up as an ameliorative in the midst of our current crisis. It is never quite clear what it is or how it works in a poor or high-crime community, but it advances the notion that if the police are nice to everyone the world will truly shine. In fact, when the police are doing the enforcement duties that differentiate them from other civilian occupations they are enmeshed in conflict, undertaking work that is adversarial and frequently leaves people smarting.
The “police problem and criminal justice systems needs fixing” debate over the past few years has consumed a staggering amount of time, but precious little in the way of solutions that will take us forward into the future--a future where the police will play a much, much reduced role.