I was terribly saddened to read of the pointless, senseless murder of yet another peace officer last week, this time in Texas. It's the latest in a string of deaths on duty for the 'thin blue line', and there's no end in sight. Sheriff Hickman said of the latest tragedy:
Hickman said Goforth was apparently singled out only because he was wearing the uniform of a law enforcement officer. The sheriff made it clear he felt the shooting was tied to a national backlash over several recent killings of unarmed black people by police officers.
"When rhetoric ramps up to the point where cold-blooded assassination has happened, this rhetoric has gotten out of control," he said. "We heard 'black lives matter.' All lives matter. Well, cops' lives matter too, so why don't we drop the qualifier and say 'lives matter' and take that to the bank."
There's more at the link.
I think we're approaching a point where there has to be a fundamental re-evaluation of what we - society as a whole - expects and wants our law enforcement officers to be. There appear to be two widely differing perspectives on the matter. One side wants minimal law enforcement commensurate with civil rights and liberties. The other wants much stricter law enforcement, even if it violates civil rights and liberties, on the grounds that public safety necessitates it. (Unfortunately for the second approach, crime in cities and areas with that approach to law enforcement appears to be at least as bad as anywhere else, and frequently worse.)
There's the issue of police themselves. We expect them to be paragons of virtue; but then we send them into situations where their daily interactions are usually with the dregs of society, where they're exposed to violence, threats, lies, filth and the worst that people have to offer. Is it any wonder that they become hardened and cynical, viewing most people (including the 'good guys') as potential law-breakers, regarding everyone as a potential threat until proven otherwise?
There's also the problem of police becoming primarily fund-raising machines for themselves and their localities. I've experienced this myself in Nashville, TN, where I live. Last year I was stopped and issued a ticket for speeding, without the Metro PD officer providing any proof at all that I had, indeed, been speeding. When I protested, he informed me that he wasn't required to do so. He agreed that I could take the matter to court if I wished, but pointed out (rather smugly, I thought) that even if I won, I'd still be required to pay more in court costs than the fine he was issuing me. I was basically in a no-win situation. I thought very seriously about fighting the ticket in court, as a matter of principle; but that would have meant going into town, waiting a full day (possibly longer) for the case to come up, having to come back again if the officer couldn't be there, and all sorts of bureaucratic hassles (as well as having to pay the aforementioned court costs whether I won or lost). It wasn't worth the trouble.
As far as I'm concerned, this was nothing more or less than legalized robbery, and my opinion of Metro PD and of its officers has plummeted. Anyone willing to work for an agency that practices such extortion has already branded himself as worthless, IMHO. As a result, I've lost almost all respect for Metro PD and its officers. Unfortunately, there are all too many such agencies out there, and all too many officers willing to work for them, and all too many local governments eager to use their law enforcement agencies as fund-raising machines.
St. Louis County in Missouri is a classic example. Read these reports to see what I mean.
- How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty
- Fleece Force: How Police And Courts Around Ferguson Bully Residents And Collect Millions
- Municipalities ticket for trees and toys, as traffic revenue declines
It's not just there, either. It's all over the country.
- More Tickets in Hard Times: Cities searching for revenue look to their police departments as a way to cash in
- Police Across USA Charged With Traffic Ticket Quotas To Meet Budgets
- Georgia Towns Are Getting Rich off Speeding Tickets
Answer me this: how are we supposed to have any respect at all for law enforcement officers (or their agencies) who engage in these shenanigans?
I suspect this is a major part of the problem with certain elements of society who resent, distrust and fear law enforcement. Some are just plain criminal, and deserve no consideration. Others . . . no, others have a real problem. They've been treated so badly, for so long, that they've lost sight of the fact that the law is there for a reason. They see it - and those who enforce it - as more of a burden, more of a threat, than a blessing to society. In time, they come to see peace officers as active enemies . . . and they respond accordingly. I have to struggle against this myself, now. When I see a Nashville Metro PD officer or vehicle, my immediate, unspoken reaction is, "Oh - another jerk looking to rip me off." That's probably very unfair to the officer(s) concerned, but it's also entirely rational and logical, considering my experience last year. That's unlikely to change anytime soon.
The trouble is, there are good law enforcement agencies and officers out there. I'm privileged to have some of them among my friends: JPG, Matt, Lawdog, Murphy's Law, Captain Tightpants and a number of others. I know that all of them treat good citizens as such, with respect and professionalism. I've worked in the law enforcement field myself, and tried very hard to do the same. To this day I carry retired LE credentials. I know there are 'good cops' out there . . . but there seem to be a whole lot less of them than there used to be. That's a tragedy. What's worse, those good officers are now the targets of criminals who see all police, good or bad, as their enemies, to be shot on sight for no other reason except that they exist. That's what seems to have happened in Texas a few days ago. I live in the daily awareness that it could happen to one of my friends at any moment, for no reason at all except that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's scary as hell for me, and even more so for them and their families. Many of them are angry about it, and I don't blame them.
Sir Robert Peel put forward nine 'Peelian Principles', which have been the bedrock of community policing in democracies throughout the world. The seventh of these Principles reads:
To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
I submit that far too many law enforcement officers and agencies have lost sight of that truth. It's certainly honored far more in the breach than in the observance, in my experience. That's perhaps the root of the resentment, anger and bitterness directed against police by so many today. They're no longer seen as members of the public, but as oppressors of the public. If we want to change the relationship between police and public, we've got to re-establish a right relationship between them. At the moment, police all too often portray themselves like this:
How do we get from that, back to this?
How do we get police to respect and uphold the rights of citizens, when they so seldom deal with citizens who respect their rights in return? I just don't know . . . but I do know that what we're in right now is a no-win situation. Things can't go on like this, because if they do, the good cops will leave. Their lives are worth more to them than the risks they'll have to face to continue as peace officers. That will mean the dregs take over . . . those who don't give a damn about citizens or their rights, and will lord it over everyone and throw their weight around behind the authority of their badges. The more they do that, the more of them will die, and the worse the situation will get.
What's the answer?