To serve and protect?

I’ll start off by saying that I know, respect and personally like a great many law enforcement officers out there.  They are regular people trying to do a difficult job.  Most are truly dedicated to doing good and making their community’s safer.

There are, however, institutional motivators that should cause everyone some concern when thinking about police-citizen relations.  The militarization of police has been in the news recently and is one (big cause) as is the various ‘wars’ we’ve declared (drugs, underage drinking, whatever).  On occasions where I instruct to an audience that has law enforcement members in it I often say cops divide the world into two groups:  criminals and those who haven’t been arrested…yet.

So, I’d recommend reading two posts from apparently very different authors.

First is this post from ‘Police:  The Law Enforcement Magazine‘.  The author, a retired police officer and associate editor of the magazine describes a community which punishes officers that prizes conformity above all else and ruthlessly squashes dissent and alternate views.

Throughout , we were taught by word and example to adhere to the party line and only exhibit fearlessness of initiative in matters of life or death. Dissent may be fine, but only in the abstract for the Department is an organism that will expel foreign bodies to preserve its homeostasis. Those who deviated from script found themselves expelled from the academy, 86’ed out of custody, banned from patrol, barred from promotion, and persona non grata in the Land of Good Standing.

Next is this post (and the comments section) from Gin and Tacos.

I’m a law abiding 33 year old white male with a Ph.D. and an aspiring middle class lifestyle…and I’ve never dealt with a cop who wasn’t an asshole toward me. Not once. If that’s how they treat someone who practically shits white male privilege, I feel safe assuming that they’re not being much friendlier or more helpful to anyone else. The police officer is supposed to be someone we can trust implicitly, and instead the policies of the past three decades have transformed the citizen-police relationship to one of deep, mutual suspicion. They see us as drug holding, law breaking felons-in-waiting, and we see them as an opponent to be avoided at all costs.

Now, I know many will be inclined to write this off as bleeding heart, commie whining but really read this and the 53 (so far) comments.

I can’t shake the feeling that these two things are linked.

I often talk about the similarities I see between a counterinsurgency campaign and some civilian crime environments.  If you were a commander of a district in Afghanistan and the local population bombarded you with comments like this about the local security forces, how confident would you be that you were winning ‘hearts and minds’?

And certainly images like this aren’t going to do much for the next generation or two and the trust and credibility they give the police.

Or the fact that nearly one-third of all people are arrested by the time they’re 23.

There’s something very, very wrong with that statistic.

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