I had a brief discussion with Clifton Collins Jr. (@) on Twitter this morning, prompted by his posting of a news clip concerning a blind man who received a jury award of $400,000 for police brutality. The headline suggested the Denver police still find they did nothing wrong.
Interestingly, that seems to be the stance of most PDs these days when an officer or officers are accused of brutality or excessive use of force–“they were following department guidelines”. The exceptions seem to be those when video of an offense goes viral. But in most cases (and there are a growing number of cases of brutality) police cite department policy when declaring officers didn’t overreact. Obviously there’s a disconnect between society’s idea of the role of the police department and the police department’s interpretation of how to execute the role.
I’m a big fan of the police. Like those of us who served in the armed forces, they’ve taken a dangerous job with low pay. But while the armed forces train to confront an enemy who wants to kill them, the police have a different role–the majority of their duties are peace keeping in nature and they are doing it among a population they are literally charged to “Protect and Serve”. Unfortunately, police departments have been infected with a militarized version of “Protect and Serve”. They treat many, if not most encounters, as if they are engagements with an enemy. This is a painful holdover (even a ramping up) of the practices developed when the war on drugs began in the 70s.
The sad truth is that many police departments are being run as if they were prisons and the officers are vigilant guards ready to quash unruly prisoner behavior before it infects the rest of the population. But defiance, disrespect, loud voices and dramatic expression are not threats, even when there is threat in the tone. And the people that are being brutalized in police actions, in many cases aren’t even criminals–but in the heat of the moment, the militarized/prisonized mentality of the police takes it as such, responding aggressively to end the episode quickly rather than defuse it in the “Serve” mode.
Failure to obey a lawful police order is not grounds for shooting if no one is in danger. Someone not getting on their knees fast enough is not grounds for tasering or beating. Citizens do not have training in obeying tactical orders, and one who is under the influence of a controlled substance may genuinely be impaired in their ability to interpret commands. But even if they are not impaired, if a cop tells me to move back because he feels I’m too close to him, stopping and looking at him curiously while it registers is not some threat that then requires him to show me his cage fighting skills.
The police department is charged with “Protecting and Serving”. Citizens don’t lose their right and privilege to be protected and served just because the police are present.
Don’t get me wrong. If someone is standing in the street with a Glock, waving it around and fails to obey the order to drop it, then oh hell yes…shoot, tase, jump on and handcuff the corpse. But if an old guy is wandering around the bus station, or a teenage girl won’t get off her phone, the response should not be the same as it would be for a mugger. “Weapons drawn” is not the way to approach every situation when dealing with the public. You are serving them. Yes, even the guy you are throwing to the ground…he employs you. The fact that statement pisses off so many cops is the first clue to what part of the problem is: Ego has become too prevalent in law enforcement. And in too many police departments, it has been institutionalized, written into “department policy”.
A knife being wielded thirty feet away does not require shots fired to defuse the situation. Someone who is holding a knife in front of armed officers is not thinking primarily of attacking officers…they are thinking “oh shit! what have I done…think for a second…think.”
Some cite aggression against police as being the overriding force in the aggression. But that argument doesn’t hold water when you look at the numbers. In 2013, the number of officers killed by gunfire was the lowest it’s been since 1887.…no that’s not a typo…1887. And last year was only slightly higher than that. In fact the number of police deaths is less than half what it was in just 2001. And yet the number of killings of citizens by police has continued to rise to more than 500 per year. You are 8 times more likely to be killed by the police than by a terrorist.
There are 40 to 50,000 military styled knock and announce raids on US citizens every year. Many of these are based on no evidence or anonymous tips. The result? A lot of injured and dead innocent citizens. The Cato Institute keeps a map of botched Paramilitary Police Raids.
In the last ten years, more than 5000 citizens lost their lives to the police in the US. That’s more Americans dead at the hands of police than Americans who died in the Iraq war. No, I’m not saying that many, even most weren’t warranted. But with the introduction of the camera phone on the scene, we are seeing more instances where we are left scratching our heads, wondering why we ended up with a body instead of an arrest.
It’s easy to dismiss allegations of police brutality when it’s claimed by “criminals”. Most people tend to believe criminals get what they deserve. But when Uncle Joe or Cousin Suzie are stomped, have their dog shot, get tackled and thrown to the ground because…(insert non violent offense here) things get a little more real.
This is not something that’s going to be solved at the individual department level. Police Departments can make adjustments, but it won’t be uniform unless we get new policy in place. And that just isn’t going to happen as long as the public is okay with “criminals” being treated that way. You see, the problem is most people the police do this to aren’t violent criminals. And “oops, my bad” doesn’t fix a cracked skull, a dead dog, a dead brother with brake parts in his hand, or an agitated grandparent assaulted at the bus station.
It’s time to “Protect and Serve” everyone. Enough with the “Shock and Awe”. We get it–you have guns and are really bad-ass. Now we want someone who can deal with our sister, daughter, son, father or spouse when they aren’t having their best day. It’s not right that average citizens tense at the approach of police for fear of a “misunderstanding” that could result in death or injury–that’s not their job.
Take it down a couple of notches. The numbers show it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be for cops and far FAR less than you think it is. Stop treating the population like it’s the enemy before you turn it into one.
If you liked this post, then please like this post 🙂 S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Political Thriller Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series). Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. He will love you for it. And if you like the posts, click like (likes, follows and reviews are the best way to get authors to write more.)