11 August 2015

Modern policing- the two biggest issues

Today I had a conversation with someone and they asked me what I thought has caused the division between the police and public.  I told her the following.

Over the years the #1 thing that has changed in American law enforcement is the striking differences between the officers and the people living in the communities they police.  Starting in the 70’s agencies, like the military, began to be much more selective with who they accepted into their ranks.  Primarily that meant lower and lower tolerances for drug use and criminal conduct.  The more stringent this has become the more excessive force issues we have had.

At one time in this country there was very little cultural difference between the officer and the community he policed other than his uniform.  Old police movies are full of plots where two kids grow up in the same neighborhood.  One becomes a cop and one becomes a criminal.  While growing up, they participated in many of the same coming of age and delinquent activities.  They shared common cultural experiences.
Now, the vast majority of agencies will not accept you if you had a misdemeanor conviction or admit to smoking weed.  For the most part, you need to be squeaky clean.  You grow up knowing nothing about the criminal element or drug culture.
You spend a few months in the academy learning everything your agency wants you to know, especially the things you are not supposed to do, and then you are on to field training.  Even in the most Mayberry like places, you will answer calls and deal with people you have nothing in common with and know nothing about.

This divide is even worse in cities where black communities are policed predominantly by white officers.  Now not only do they have a lack of shared behavioral culture, but also no shared ethnic or racial culture.  All the training in the world will not change this.  The bottom line for these communities is that they can either encourage young people in their own communities to be police or continue to be policed by whoever the agency can hire. 

The second reason, but well related to the first is that kids can no longer get in fist fights in school without being locked up.  Rough housing is frowned upon in every environment.  Kids today may make it all the way through high school and often college without being punched in the face. 

By the time that agencies begin defensive tactics, they often have a small fortune invested in the recruit.  They are not very happy with instructors who break a student during training.  So in the academy they don’t get punched in the face.
You get officers that come out of the academy that are not used to being cursed at much less being in a fight.  You put them in scary and sometimes deadly scenarios and they end up dead or using excessive force because they are scared.

In service training is no better, every police instructor knows the two most important questions that will be asked; “when is lunch” and “what time are we getting out”.  That is for any training.  For defensive tactics training it is even worse.

Much of the time firearms and defensive tactics instructors are pariahs, they care, think, and talk about things that make fellow officers and bosses uncomfortable.  Things like actually putting your hands on someone or having to shoot them.

So, my conclusion is that the basic problem in law enforcement is that officers are now inoculated to the realities and stress of the street and spend too little time on open hand combative skills that if used properly and at the right time, could prevent the majority of excessive force issues and shootings.

Since we have covered the problems with police, now let’s cover the biggest problem with how this country views police.  They seem to forget that anyone stopped by the police has the opportunity not to break the law and to do as they are told by the police.  They also don’t seem to understand that if you use violence against the police they will and are justified to use violence against you.  In my personal opinion, if a cop can punch someone in the face, or break their arm instead of shooting them that is a win win.  You cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

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