The recent upheaval on the streets of America, ignited by the brutal and despicable murder of a black man by a few rogue Minneapolis police officers, has caused untold physical and emotional damage, and has widened the rift between the police and the citizens they are supposed to serve and protect. Many suggestions on how to fix things have come from insiders and outsiders alike.
I’d like to offer my own thoughts on how to help heal the wounds internally, as well as how to bridge the confidence gap between those who wear the uniform and the citizens of America. I served in various capacities as a sworn officer for the Mesa, Arizona Police Department for twenty years ending in 1998. Since that time I have associated with peace officers regularly and I continue to teach firearms classes on occasion. With that background, and noting that (until very recently) most of the suggestions to improve policing have involved looking forward to new policing models and policing technology, I’d like to suggest that mayors, city councils, police and Sheriffs Office command staffs pause and take a look back.
Defund the police?
But before we look back, I must address the most wild, dangerous, unwise and hateful idea that has ever been thrown down
almost as a gauntlet
to affect change. And that idea is that Americans defund or totally disband their police departments and sheriffs’ offices.
First of all, the idea itself is a part of a plan to eliminate local and independent law enforcement agencies from their positions as the guardians of freedom and the protectors of American exceptionalism. Some of the specifics that have been suggested to carry out this crazy notion involve turning people who currently serve as police officers (who respond to domestic disputes and mentally ill persons who might or might not be violent) into social workers who wear blazers or cardigans instead of gun belts and hand out lollipops.
This drastic reduction or total elimination of the numbers of current police officers who are trained, prepared and equipped to handle whatever might evolve in a situation has already happened in America more than once. One look back at the police pull-back after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore (or other similar situation) should be stark proof that this idea is bonkers. And let me say right now, that some – though not all
of the police actions that sparked such anger and outrage in our citizens deserved strong opposition and strong discipline or prosecution against the specific police officers who were involved. The few bad cops in America tarnish the badge, which is called a shield for a reason.
Immediately after police held back and did not respond to most calls for service for fear of being attacked and/or accused of wrong-doing, crime rates, including murders in those cities, spiked dramatically upward. Innocent beleaguered families begged for more policing, not less, in crime-ridden cities, including Chicago, which gets my vote for the murder capital of America.
It is encouraging to see that the vast majority of Americans, of whatever political persuasion or racial group, soundly reject such an insane idea.
Back to the Future
Let’s look back to a time when the cop on the beat actually knew some of the families who lived in the area where he served, and some of them knew him or her – by name. Back to a time when police training actually featured the word servant. Back to a time where citizens would actually come to the aid of an officer
with no back-up
who was struggling with a suspect. Back to a time when on a Christmas day, a father would come out of his house, flag down the beat officer driving by, and invite him to come in and have Christmas dinner with the family. Both of these stories actually happened to me while on duty.
So let’s return to a time when many cop cars sported the words: In God We Trust, somewhere on their exterior, and a time when virtually every city and county police patrol car in the nation carried on its driver’s door, the motto: To Protect and Serve.
To Protect and Serve
American cops came face-to-face with this pledge every time they hit the streets after briefing, and it meant something. That motto has been missing from patrol cars for many years. As far as I knew from routine as well as life-or-death interactions with my academy classmates, we were all believers in the fact that our mission was to do just one thing, though in many different ways. And that one thing was to protect the God-given individual rights of our citizens. We were called “peace officers” in the state standards, and that, too, meant something. The culture of servant-policing was handed down from the top, and we were taught that our mission was to be first, a shield, and only if necessary, a sword. And when we used the sword, it was to protecting citizens’ rights, not to show our power.
Of course, our service and protection in the community was many times anything but peaceful. But peace was always our goal. The 1957 Law Enforcement Officers Code of Ethics, which we all pledged to follow, was given to each of us. In part, it said:
“As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve the community; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the constitutional rights of all to liberty, equality, and justice.
I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all and will behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to me or to my agency…I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession… law enforcement.”
(This powerful and personal pledge of service has, sadly, been replaced, in many agencies, by the Law Enforcement Code of Conduct, which has removed the references to God, and other parts of the original.) That was the general state of law enforcement for the nation. But more than that, our own General Orders Manual, featured the following orders from the command staff to all personnel:
The application and enforcement of the law must be accomplished in the spirit set forth by the framers of the Constitution. The rights of each citizen are equal with those of the state, which might accuse him.”
~Mesa PD Gen. Order 01.103~
A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is essential to the security of individual rights and the perpetuity of a free state.”
~Art. 2, Sec. 1, Arizona Constitution~
Officers should display a reverence for the legal rights of all citizens and a reverence for the law itself.”
~Mesa PD Gen. Order 01.103.B.4~
Enforcement action should not be taken in grudging adherence to the rights of the accused, but in the spirit of ensuring that the rights of accused persons are protected by the police.”
~Mesa PD Gen. Order 01.103.B.3~
All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.”
~Art. 2, Sec. 2, Arizona constitution~
We love peace, as we abhor pusillanimity; but not at any price. There is a peace more destructive of the manhood of man than war is destructive of his material body. Chains are worse than bayonets.”
~Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)~
Sadly, these general orders aren’t a part of the MPD manual today. Contemporary training of recruit officers is much different, and militarism has crept in, along with the idea that cops are better than the citizens, and must supervise them. Not every cop has this attitude, but too many display it regularly. Recent use-of-force incidents demonstrate that the servant mentality is on life support. These orders, or their equivalent, should be part of every officer’s training.
This servant culture can be reinstituted in American policing, but like those early years, it must begin in the recruit training academy and must come from the top down. Culture is contagious.
In Part 2, we will present specific and necessary training curriculum ideas that can reform and serve as a course correction maneuver for American Policing.