Monday, August 25, 2014

Can We Stop Demonizing The Police?

In the last few months or so it seems everyone is trying to make police officers in the United States into Gestapo agents on a mission. Videos are posted daily of one or two police officers who seemingly abuse their authority by abusing civilians. But is that really the norm? Are all police officers dishonest, power hungry Nazis?

There are approximately 780,000 police officers and detectives in the United States. That's less than 1 million officers to deal with the everyday problems and crimes of 330,000,000 people. That's a pretty small ratio compared to the population but it's also a rather large number compared to the number of actual bad cops. 

If you've never worked in the law enforcement field you really have no idea how truly sad, pathetic and downright disgusting some people can be. I worked in federal prisons for 22 years, dealing with the some of the worst of the federal inmates. But there is a huge difference in federal crimes and state crimes. Federal crimes must break some federal law or occur on federal property. State felonies cover pretty much everything else. So your average rapist, murderer, child molester, or what have you, go to state prisons unless the crime was committed on an Indian reservation, inside a bank during a robbery, on a military base, in a national park, etc.

I tell you this because before these inmates get to prison the police on the street have to deal with them. Inside the prison those inmates who want to commit violent acts find things to turn into weapons. On the street there are weapons readily available. Inside a prison a corrections worker deals with dozens, sometimes hundreds of inmates every day. He/she knows that each and every inmate is a bad guy who committed a crime. You expect the unexpected at all times.

On the street, a police officer deals with dozens of people a day. Not all of those people are bad guys and not all of them are potentially dangerous. Police have to pay attention and within seconds figure out who is the bad guy and who isn't. How many of you can do that in an instant, knowing your life depends on it?

Some will say "Police are trained for that." And that's true. But like it or not, police are human beings who sometimes make mistakes and sometimes even let the power go to their heads. But out of 780,000 cops nationwide, those who go bad are the exception, not the rule.

I've known quite a few police officers throughout my lifetime. They are all honest men and women who do and love the job they were hired to do. They don't abuse people. They don't overstep their authority. And if the need arose they would step in front of a bullet to protect you or me. Because they are people of integrity and honor. And they'd be the first to tell you that most cops are of the same character as they. No wait - I'd be the first to tell you.

I have noticed that most people who bad mouth police are people who have had personal run-ins with them that didn't work out well. When a person breaks the law and gets caught one of two things happen. He/she is cooperative, accepts the fact that they did something wrong, and deals with the consequences. Others, often fueled by alcohol or rage, decide they are going to buck and not be cooperative. They refuse to do the smart thing and simply do what they're told and they end up on the losing end 99.9% of the time. Then they get angry at the police for that. 

Of course there are exceptions. That happens. But what I've learned through observation over the years (and even from experience working in prisons), it's better to cooperate and voice your complaint later than to voice your complaint at the time and be treated like an uncooperative suspect. In most cases, once you've been stopped, the police are going to win. What matters is whether they win with or without you being in pain. Even if the problem is the fault of the officer (or perceived as such) - it's better to simply cooperate than to fight or argue. The videos being posted show that point very well.

Some people are proud and stubborn and would rather fight than submit. To them I say "You made your choice so you really have no reason to complain later."

The other topic I want to bring up is the President's new emphasis on "demilitarizing the police." The Ferguson riots brought out police in riot gear and teams of SWAT units in full tactical gear. Some people, including the President apparently, believe that police should not have tactical gear and tactical vehicles because... well... I don't know why. Tactical gear and vehicles are simply tools. They don't kill or maim anyone any more than semi-automatic weapons do unless they are used by individuals to do so. 

Anytime police stand in front of rioting crowds, where they can be easily outnumbered 10 to 1, they deserve to have the best protective equipment possible. Anyone who disagrees with that should be forced to stand on that line sometime with only a helmet, vest and baton. I actually read a comment about that one day in which the commenter said "It's not fair that the police have all that protective gear." Really? So you believe that a couple hundred police should face down thousands of violent protesters without any protective gear? Are you really that stupid?

If you were paying attention in Ferguson you saw the Ferguson police respond to the rioters the second day with tactical gear and armored vehicles. They were immediately criticized for their excessive response. They were pulled off of the scene and replaced with state police who decided the soft approach, talking, holding hands, and singing Kum Ba Ya, was the answer. That lasted about 36 hours before protesters again began rioting and looting. Guess what happened then? The state police came back with tactical equipment and armored vehicles. And the governor called in the Missouri National Guard who arrived with - you guessed it - more tactical gear and armored vehicles. Imagine that.

The best way to deal with rioters is to meet them head-on, early, with enough force to send them running. These were not "peaceful protesters" as the President and the media called them. They weren't "liberators" as Al Sharpton called them. They were looters, vandals, arsonists... criminals. And they needed an immediate and strong response, which is what the Ferguson PD and St. Louis County PD did; only to be chastised for it - before the state police did the same thing. The violent mob mentality responds best to force used against them. It's that simple.

Just like the majority of Americans are decent, law-abiding citizens, so most police officers are decent, law-abiding members of the law enforcement community. I, for one, am happy to have them and will do whatever I can to support them. It is they who put their lives on the line every day for the safety and well being of their communities and their citizens. 

A special shout out to Dana, Bucky and Carl - three friends who wear their shields with dignity, integrity and pride. Thanks for what you do. Stay safe and alert.

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