Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Fixing the Police Problem (PART ONE)

Ok, let’s start with a statement that will piss off the extreme right and left for different reasons. We need police officers, point blank period. In any society there are criminals and there is crime; and part of the social compact is that the state is suppose to use its resources to collectively protect the community. Communities are made of laws and therefore someone has to do the job of enforcing those laws. Let’s also understand that there is always a bit of push-back against any organization that is built to enforce the law, even cops don’t like Internal Affairs, that is another part of the social compact,  rule enforcers have to understand that the job they are doing is going to enamor a certain amount of animosity. So PROBLEM #1, as a society we need cops, and some of us are not going to like cops. There is a natural disposition to be resentful towards those chosen or who choose to enforce rules, and rather than anticipate that issue and implement policies to solve for it, many politicians enact policies that make that divide even more pronounced. 

An even bigger problem happens when the cops start to hate the people they are supposed to protect. When the shepherd hates the sheep there is a lot of damage he can do, much more in fact than if the sheep are annoyed with the shepherd. When the shepherd starts to hate and abuse the sheep he not only destroys the social compact, but he endangers the community. If the community cannot trust those entrusted, paid and bound by oath to protect it, the community has no choice but to start to unravel.Which leads us to our next problem. 

PROBLEM #2 It is natural for us to start to hate our jobs.
I used to work in a movie theater, and it was one of my favorite jobs of all time. I loved getting to watch free movies, taking my girlfriend to free movies, discounts on concession, free concession, early showings, it was awesome. But after a while, I started to hate everything about the job. Popcorn, I HATED POPCORN! I made so much of it; I started to despise the smell. And the customers, OH GOD THE CUSTOMERS! They started getting on my nerves too. Asking silly questions, their bad-mannered kids, the messes they made, it all got to be annoying even though I loved the job and the perks.

I think most people can relate to this, starting to become annoyed by your job and even starting to despise the base of people you are supposed to serve. The difference with most professions is that they do not have the ability to end the life of their constituents. Now part of this distain of the society they are supposed to protect is a natural progression of any high risk, high stress, low paying job. But some of it mutates into something much darker, much more insidious, and when you mix that with social inequities, racism, economic depression, you have a volatile mixture. Some of you are thinking right now that there is no way cops feel like that. Go to any online police officer message board and you will see this is exactly how some of them feel.

While this is in no means a general indictment of all officers, it is an indictment of those who have no business wearing the badge. And there are way too many of those out there right now and they are being protected by unions, politicians and fellow officers. PROBLEM #3 Bad officers are a plague on society.  In my opinion good policing is so important that bad police officers pose a national security risk. By their actions they erode the very trust that a citizen is supposed to feel towards law enforcement, making the job of good officers harder and more dangerous. Many of the places that could use a better, more efficient police presence are often victimized by both criminals and officers who often act no better than criminals. Often the reason these communities are then unable to differentiate is because the big blue wall created by police lumps all officers together. When horrible people put on the badge and uniform and commit atrocities and are not instantly denounced it, causes communities to feel that all officers are to blame for the actions of a few. Because when the many do not speak up their silence is seen as assent. If police officers want to change hearts and minds they must begin to make CLEAR lines of distinction between the criminal sociopaths who hide their pathology behind their badges, and those officers who genuinely want to make a difference in their communities.

 PROBLEM #4 Politicians have made the job of policing impossibly hard. You have local governments that are bleeding money. In an attempt to appease the 1%, many state governments have lowered the amount of funding they give to municipalities and they simultaneously have lowered taxes. Well, things get done with taxes and to supplement that lost income many municipalities have started engaging their police departments in revenue building law enforcement policies. Instead of using the police to stop crime and protect the community they are using police to generate funding for the city. In many communities, city officials have made police officers bill collectors with badges a militarized local taxing agency.  This is what the DOJ said happened for the better part of a decade in Ferguson. The police department had been turned into bill collectors with guns. At one point 75% of the people of Ferguson had warrants (for low level misdemeanors like parking tickets and noise violations).

When you are engaging in that type of petty, revenue building enforcement, instead of actually utilizing the police to stop crime, you make the people lose faith in their shepherds. In fact, it gets to the point when their Shepherds are seen as another form of wolf. A predator sent to attack and oppress the community. The police become resentful because they are being set against the very community they are supposed to protect and serve. The community becomes resentful because they feel they are being betrayed by its protectors. You have the perfect storm that just needs one spark. And instead of addressing these problems, politicians often double down and exasperate the issues even further.  

These are the problems, in the next post, I will delve into solutions.