I defended or explained police practices in hundreds of articles. Consequently, I’ve been called every name in the book by people on both sides of the issue (including cops). Writing about policing, especially when it involves race, is not for the thin-skinned.
Police shootings have been the lead story of endless media outlets and it’s accelerated since the August 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the Freddie Gray incident in Baltimore in 2015. From the erroneous “hands up-don’t shoot” narrative in Ferguson to the acquitted six police officers in Baltimore ( there was no evidence that the officers did anything wrong per a judge) there are endless stereotypes surrounding explosive police events.
A new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News reveals that six in 10 Americans say the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, far outpacing concerns about those measures interfering with how law enforcement does its job.
For many Black Americans, satisfaction with the Chauvin verdict is tempered by concerns it will stymie broader police reform, the Washington Post. In Chicago, there’s relief with a dose of cynicism. “We know that the conviction of one police officer is not going to end police killings.” In South Carolina, a call to end “qualified immunity” — a legal doctrine that has shielded many officers — as a way to ensure reform. Patrick Skinner, a police officer in Savannah, Georgia, says police should see Chauvin’s conviction as the beginning of a reckoning that is long overdue. “I need to take this verdict personally if I am to change professionally.”
I understand that your opinions of the Chauvin trial may be based on the media outlet of your choice with some predicting acquittal in an appellate court, National Public Radio. Holding a trial under threat of massive national disturbances (impossible for the jury not to know this) and the statements of prominent politicians may give Chauvin a new trial.
First, what Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd was simply and profoundly stupid and now criminal via a jury verdict. You may disagree but your opposition is falling on deaf ears. Seventy-five percent of Americans agree with the verdict, CBS News. You can’t get seventy-five percent of Americans to agree on anything.
In the minds of some, Chauvin represents most cops. Justice employees will have to live with this for years to come. It’s a watershed moment.
In my 35 years of directing media relations for police and justice organizations, I understood that there are times where incidents become issues; a collective feeling that the problem lies with the organization itself.
To critics and many in the media, most cops are the problem. News coverage is unceasingly negative.
White House Response to Chauvin’s Verdict (direct quotes)
Today, a jury in Minnesota found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd last May.
It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism the Vice President just referred to — the systemic racism that is a stain our nation’s soul; the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans; the profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day, The White House.
Per the President, who has expressed endless support of law enforcement in the past, many (most?) cops are now systemic racists.
Skyrocketing Violent Crime
What’s missing from the larger discussion is that we desperately need cops for everyone’s safety. Per the research, the explosive problem of growing violent Crime in America and proposed solutions are mostly in the hands of law enforcement. The alternative “social” proposals are almost completely lacking a research base. If you doubt that, see the US Department of Justice’s Crime Solutions.Gov.
Tens of thousands of African Americans have been murdered since the increase in violence in 2015 (after the Furgeson and Baltimore incidents) Statista. The overwhelming number of perpetrators are Black. It’s the same for aggravated assaults (attacks with a weapon). This is compared to approximately 200-250 police deadly shootings involving African Americans a year, Statista.
For the last five years, the police have fatally shot about 1,000 civilians annually, the vast majority of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. Black people account for about 23% of those shot and killed by police; they are about 13% of the U.S. population, Manhattan Institute. Additional major media outlets offer similar data.
Are Cops Really The Problem?
What’s missing from the larger discussion is that the overwhelming number of cops are good and decent people per President Obama’s, Trump’s and Biden’s previous statements.
If I felt that a substantial number of cops were racist or purposely brutal, I wouldn’t waste my time writing these articles. I would be a critic calling for change. I want full equality and decent treatment for EVERY American, regardless of who they are.
But I spent decades in the justice system interacting with hundreds of cops as a police officer and later in the role of a justice public affairs director. Ninety-nine percent of my interactions with cops and police administrators caused me to admire the profession.
Most understand the animosity and regrettable history between cops and African Americans plus other groups. Nearly all understand that our job is to enforce the law equally. We exist to serve the public. Nearly everyone acknowledges that it is in our best interest to confront cops with questionable values or actions.
Yea, there are people who shouldn’t be cops. Yes, there are officers who have engaged in questionable or criminal behavior. I’m not sure there is any difference between them and corrupt journalists or priests or business people or politicians, but they exist.
Yes, I hate bad or abusive cops.
Mistakes And Disparities
Yes, disparities exist in policing AND journalism AND the medical field AND science AND business AND academia, AND entertainment but somehow, others are given a pass. Why?
I directed media relations in African American administered justice agencies principally staffed by Black management and employees for over 25 years. Racial disparities were the same as in any other justice agency.
Yes, mistakes happen. As an officer, I almost shot someone when he reached for a gun that turned out to be a non-lethal starter pistol. A woman on a porch during a domestic violence incident where shots were fired would not put her gun down (her drunken husband shot at her-she took his gun-but I didn’t know the full story at the time). There are other examples where I could have shot or killed someone.
Before leaving policing for college, I came to the conclusion that law enforcement was simply impossible. Sooner or later, you are going to make a mistake. My race or the background of the people involved didn’t matter. The circumstances didn’t matter. What did matter is the fact that you pulled the trigger (or came damned close to it) and you would have to live with that decision for the rest of your life.
So Police Use Of Force, Regardless Of The Circumstances, Changes Everything?
Seems that way. My premise is that the overwhelming number of cops are good and decent people who understand their service roles. They want respect for being part of a very small number of people who are willing to risk their lives for complete strangers. Take away that respect, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason to be a cop.
So Cops Aren’t Trusted?
Some feel disrespected by the actions of police officers thus the trust and understanding of the police role is severely frayed.
Quite frankly, we in the justice system haven’t done a good job making sure that everyone knows what we do and why we do it. We save lives daily. We find lost children or people with dementia. We stop people from beating their wives. We literally save communities from endless violence.
If you go to schools for emergency communications (I’ve attended several), you learn that groups hold on to beliefs regardless of circumstances.
My Irish relative hated everything and everyone English. If one understands the history of Irish repression by England and the overwhelming discrimination towards Irish and Catholic Americans in the past, you can understand his feelings. That Irish repression in America was largely over at the time didn’t change his mind.
For many, because of a deeply regrettable history of repression, cops can be oppressors. Every mistake, every time things don’t go well, it reinforces a stereotype.
Society, advocates and the media are more than willing to judge a million cops (sworn and civilian) by the actions of a few. If you are capable of making that leap, you are capable of any “ism.”
Communities Demanded Aggressive Cops
Is painting all officers with a broad brush fair to cops? Nope, It isn’t. Why? Because it was national and community pressure that got us to where we are today. Communities didn’t “suggest” aggressive cops, they “demanded” them.
In my day, we conducted routine patrols and responded to calls. Proactive or self-initiated investigations happened but were limited in scope. Then crime exploded and cops were forced to be aggressive based on the success in New York City as to dramatically lower rates of violence.
The pressure for action on the part of police officers came from politicians, the media and community leadership. African Americans and other communities demanded action. I attended a community meeting in a Black neighborhood where cops were called uncaring because they were not aggressive enough. They wanted the trouble makers gone and they didn’t care how we did it.
Going from routine patrols and responding to calls to aggressive proactivity was dangerous and the risk of something going wrong was on every police officers’ mind. Average cops disagreed with the new policies but no one cared. People wanted action.
When I was the director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, I did tours for media of overflowing, massively overcrowded correctional facilities because of aggressive stops by police. Everyone knew what was happening. Few cared.
Society got what it demanded without understanding that every proactive encounter meant risk for all involved.
Have Cops Lost America?
No. The interesting thing is that policing remains one of the most respected professions in America. The overwhelming number of Americans, regardless of who they are, want cops in their neighborhoods Gallup and give police officers high marks, Police Public Opinion.
Surveys of police and citizen interactions provide proof that cops are given high marks for fairness. Yes, there are differences as to race, age or politics but regardless, the great majority say that officers treated them fairly.
There are 40 to 60 million contacts with police officers every year thus it’s a statistical impossibility that every encounter will be peaceful. Nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Two to three percent involve force “or” the threat of force, hardly the stereotype portrayed in the media or used by critics.
So What Happens Now?
Violent crime and fear of crime are going through the roof because “now” people want officers to back off and not be aggressive. Firearm sales are skyrocketing. People are moving out of cities, US Crime Rates.
Have people accepted a new level of violence? Seems so. Thousands are dying or injured via violent crime but it’s negative encounters with cops that get the bulk of the attention. It’s African American communities that are being hurt the most, but again, no one seems to care.
News reports suggest that the cities where protests and or riots have occurred are being hit the hardest, Governing.Com.
It’s African American communities that are bearing the brunt of the violence, NBC News.
There are articles linking police defunding and lack of proactive policing to increased homicides and violence, Washington Times.
There were 722 more homicides in nine U.S. cities last year, according to police data. More than 85% of the increase was in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, The Marshall Project.
Officers are not being proactive, again, based on the demands of the community.
Per media reports, cops are quitting. Per a national survey, recruitment is down 63 percent. Response time is down in cities across the country. Some cities (i.e., Minneapolis) have to rely on officers from other jurisdictions.
More than 5,300 NYPD officers have retired or submitted paperwork to leave the force in 2020, a 75 percent increase from the previous year, according to department data, reports The Grio per The New York Post. Approximately 2,600 officers departed while another 2,746 filed for retirement. In 2019, a total of 3,053 left the force. From the beginning of this year through April 21, 831 officers have already retired or filed for permanent leave, and many more are expected to follow suit.
In the final analysis, the most basic decision is whether one continues to be a cop. Maybe the time to leave policing is now.
First, this will pass. When I joined policing, there was endless racial animosity and civil disturbances. It passed. All of this will end and possibly, we will learn valuable lessons as to training or community relations or better telling our story. We desperately need good cops. Please stay.
Even in this day of endless questioning of police actions, there are calls to do “something” about growing violence. The public will turn to the police for solutions, they always do. Again per Crime Solutions.Gov, there are few if any alternatives that work without cops.
Everyone (regardless of who they are) wants cops and everyone (regardless of who they are) rank cops favorably.
No one supports corrupt or violent or criminal officers. People claim that cops protect themselves (as if journalists, priests, businesspeople and endless others don’t) but it’s been my experience that when a cop causes problems, word gets to the right people. One bad officer makes life dangerous for all.
But if my premise is correct that the overwhelming number of police officers are good and decent people who simply want to do the right thing (per Presidents Obama-Trump-Biden), then there needs to be a reexamination of the role of American policing.
It seems massively unfair to demand aggressive cops and then endlessly complain about the results.
It seems massively unfair to demand non-aggressive cops and complain about the skyrocketing violence.
Society needs to stop being so cowardly. Communities and society need to figure this out for themselves. Don’t want traffic stops? Then don’t complain when kids are run down in the streets. There is a research correlation between traffic enforcement and orderly neighborhoods.
Don’t want drug enforcement? Then pay the cost of mental health and drug treatment without complaint.
Don’t want proactive policing? Then don’t complain about the violence that keeps jobs from coming to the community.
People want “guardians” but not “warriors” except when someone invades a school or a house of worship or business or a shopping mall and starts killing people. Then they want cops armed to the teeth with the training and tactical vehicles to quickly stop the violence.
But police officers can’t do this job without missteps. Every bad decision doesn’t need to be on the front page of every newspaper for weeks at a time. There is a difference between a mistake and malice.
You can’t do this job without community support. Society needs to agree as to what it wants from law enforcement. Cops can’t stop you from beating your wife or buying stolen goods or stopping two people who know each other from beating each other senseless when drunk.
Society and communities control bad behavior. You can have an officer patrol your street twenty times a day but it won’t stop interpersonal violence.
Until communities and society figure this out, I believe it’s impossible to be a cop without enormous personal risk. You could be the most decent person on the planet but you will make reasonable, understandable decisions that cause major consternation.
You could justifiably and legally use force or shoot yet you will be condemned (unless you are protecting the powerful from a right-wing uprising at the US Capitol).
Is that what a normal well-intentioned person wants from a career?