Don’t be A Cop?
Are we asking too much from police officers?
No one wants to be a cop. Does that impact your safety?
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Graduate-Johns Hopkins University.
We now have a substantial increase in crime throughout the United States with record increases in homicides, fear of crime, and gun purchases, see http://www.crimeinamerica.net/crime-rates-united-states/. What cops do and don’t do, and the availability of people to become police officers is becoming a significant issue.
Are we at the point where your safety is meaningfully compromised?
While we understand that everything regarding crime now has a political context, there is one undisputed observation, remove cops and crime skyrockets.
There are endless articles stating that cops are “holding back.” They are not aggressively enforcing laws and many (including the Director of the FBI) are suggesting that today’s anti-cop environment is making police officers less proactive and contributing to record increases in violent crime.
While those questioning the use of unwarranted police tactics are right and justified in doing so, the question is, have we gone too far? Are the tactics painting all cops with a broad brush (we wouldn’t/shouldn’t do that to other classes of people) creating an unsafe society?
We want guardians, not warriors many say but when there is a mass shooting or an act of terrorism, we want cops to end it armed with high-powered rifles, armored vehicles, and tactical gear. To do that, they have to be trained and equipped for armed conflict. How to you train someone to “carefully” use force only when necessary (guardians) while we train cops for battle (warriors)?
We want cops to be judicious in the use of their powers (i.e., don’t arrest for minor crimes) yet we don’t provide specific guidelines. This site has consistently called for written contracts with communities as to the level of law enforcement they want. Cops get so many mixed messages (i.e., clear the corners per citizen complaints, but do it nicely). But how do you become a guardian when they won’t leave?
Question: Are we simply asking too much from cops?
Are Cops Disappearing?
Veterans of the criminal justice system know that we are having an almost impossible time recruiting correctional officers, and now the same applies to cops. There are multiple articles throughout the United States documenting the problems recruiting new police officers. Some suggest that it’s becoming impossible to fill open slots, or to fill them with quality people.
From the Washington Post: After Ferguson, Applications for Cops in D.C. Drop Sharply
Washington, D.C., police recruiter Phil Honoré is like college football and basketball coaches scrambling to sign the same blue-chip prospects, the Washington Post reports. “They want to know, ‘Does [the police department] want me?’ ” The answer is a resounding yes. However, for various reasons, including perceived dangers of the job, the prying eyes of roaming citizen-videographers, a younger generation less enamored with public service, and the sour “Ferguson effect,” police work has lost some luster.
The talent pool is thinner, vacancies harder to fill. In the spring Dallas canceled two police academy classes for lack of interest. Chicago was forced to lower its minimum age for rookie officers from 25 to 18. Philadelphia dumped a college-credits requirement. In the capital city, where the dynamic has been complicated by a retirement bubble, the police department’s head count shrank to 3,786 in December, the lowest in at least a decade. Applications declined some 26 percent from 2013 to 2014 and dipped another 28 percent from 2014 to 2015. In this harsh recruiting climate any idea short of kidnapping merits consideration. Washington Post
Don’t be A Cop?
As one commentator stated after the indictment of six police officers in Baltimore after riots pertaining to the Freddie Gray case, “Every wife and girlfriend, every husband and boyfriend is telling their loved one’s to get out of the Baltimore City Police Department, and to get out now.” Similar conversations are happening in other cities.
An article on this site states that Baltimore now has the largest growth in homicides of the cities measured by recent US Department of Justice funded data. Rising rates of homicides and violence are happening in cities throughout the county.
Too Difficult to Discuss?
I fully understand that as soon as I say the above, there are endless racial, political or class considerations that cause many (most) of us to retreat into our corners. See new research from Pew at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/09/29/the-racial-confidence-gap-in-police-performance/. But race is just one factor in an issue loaded with endless interchangeable parts.
For some, the indictment of the officers in Baltimore was an unethical, illegal, crass move to make a political statement that completely disregarded human rights and the US Constitution.
For others, it’s a righteous proclamation of power to address and rectify endless inequities within our criminal justice system.
We condemn the stupid or brutal actions of bad cops, and after being a police officer, I can assure you they exist.
But are we willing to paint all police officers with a broad brush? It seems that we are. Citing recent statements from people in the sports and entertainment industries condemning cops would take 1,000 words.
Gallup reported in 2015 that public perceptions of police officers had reached its lowest point in 22 years.
Per Pew, only about one-third (36%) of the public says they have a lot of confidence in their police department. An additional 41% of Americans say they have some confidence in their community’s police department.
So given the current climate, why would anyone be willing to be a police officer?
If people refuse to serve as officers or are reluctant to meaningfully engage in our cities, or the quality of new recruits is inadequate, the consequences are enormous.
Pay and Training
If we want cops to do the impossible (warrior/guardian/facilitator/unbiased arbitrator/unquestionably fair and polite social servants), we need to do the following:
Recruit police officers with exhaustive tests for integrity, fairness and intelligence
Pay them a minimum of $50,00 to start, quickly reaching $75,000 within five years and $100,000 within ten
Provide a minimum of six months of basic training
Allow them to opt out of street enforcement due to stressors in their life
Provide a minimum of two months of vacation a year
Provide them with four weeks of retraining every year
Have a written contract with every community in the US as to what they want cops to do and how they want them to do it
If we are really serious about cops being held to a standard that few of us would be willing to undertake (which is why we can’t get people to be police officers) then we better be prepared to pay for the service we demand.
If not, the viability of our cities is threatened with new waves of violence.
To suggest that thousands of lives hang in the balance is an understatement.
Washington Post excerpt (edited) comes from The Crime Report at http://thecrimereport.org/
Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net
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