There are, these days, a lot of heat and light surrounding several police departments in particular and, thanks to intellectual giants like Colin Kaepernick, police (and society) in general. Now, there is no denying that some police departments have systemic problems. It happens and it is the job of the municipal leaders or, in rare cases the Department of Justice, to figure out why it is happening and how to deal with it. Are there bad cops? Damn right there are bad cops. There are also bad politicians, football players, baseball players, IT people, Doctors, etc, etc, etc. Just bad people. Mainly because, well, people are people.
However, the difference is that 99.9% of police departments actively work to weed out the lousy cops because society expects it and good cops don't want to have to deal with it anymore than you or I would in our workplace. When you add in that the lousy cop also has a gun, things can get complicated. Mostly the weeding out process works. If you decide today that you want to be an Officer on the street, it will be a year – think about that – a year before you are anywhere near ready to do that. If at any point during that process the Department thinks you aren't for them, you're gone.
Complicated is an apt word to use to describe police work. Everything about the job is complicated and the sum total of the tools that an individual officer has to deal with a complicated sea of humanity are their wits, and whatever they have with them. They don't have a psychologist, a doctor, a dentist, social worker and a counselor all riding along in their car. They've got whatever is in their skull and some comrades on the force to help deal with it and you can pretty much guarantee that when the police have an interaction with someone, it's among the worst days in that persons' life. Something has gone horribly wrong. It's complicated.
Let me tell you a story about complicated: not long after I was first elected there was a lawsuit filed against the City for what the media calls "Police brutality" but the courts call "excessive force". In this scenario there was a domestic assault call – the woman was being beaten by her boyfriend. Somehow, after the police arrived, the woman who called for help emerged with a broken limb. I was seriously pissed off. An excessive force complaint against the police in "My City" in which our police offerers broke a womans arm? Not on my watch baby. We need to clean this mess up and fast. I asked for an immediate Council briefing from the Chief of Police and he was happy to oblige.
Now, you don't get to be Chief by not being able to deal with the ding-dongs in elected office. The Chief started that meeting by indicating that everyone needed to listen very carefully first and ask questions second. The facts painted a different picture: the guy doing the beating was a wanted violent felon and the female – who had called for help – had attacked the responding officers resulting in a big wrestling match which is how her arm was damaged.
I remember thinking that those facts painted a different picture than what I came into the meeting with and therein lies the truth behind policing. It's complicated and it does not fit into 90 second news segments very cleanly. Why on earth would she attack those officers? I certainly wouldn't have expected it but it evidently happens with some regularity. In addition, Officers are people too. Engaging people who are enraged, under the influence or armed can be frightening. Even if you're experienced. Police are people too – they want to go home at the end of their workday too. It's a damn difficult job that includes the making of split-second, life or death decisions that can go horribly, horribly wrong…..but way more often than not, they go right and the situation gets resolved. You don't hear about those episodes. Yes, it is human to focus on those situations where things have really just fallen apart but that ain't most times and folks need to recognize that.
I guess the moral of the story is that society needs to be prepared to stand behind their first-responders knowing, in advance, that they're human too and occasionally things will go wrong. We need them, warts an all. To not do this, to not back our police, creates a wider gulf between the Officers and the people they protect. Our Chief of Police, Doug Keen, aptly summed the situation: "The Police are the guardians of our community and understand that our communities support us….It would be easy for us to take the "warrior" mindset and begin treating people as such. But, the Police remember that as guardians we are protecting, preserving and respecting all lives." That's powerful and it speaks to the crux of the matter: the men and women of the Police Force need your individual support and, indeed, our collective support and it is the only way to make the institution succesful. Does it mean that we don't hold them accountable? No. But it does mean that we recognize and give them the benfit of the doubt and our solid support along the way. Remember, only "We" can do this. We don't "buy" security from our Officers. They are members of society who offer to guard the rest of us and "we" always need to keep that in mind.
Thank goodness for the great folks on our police force.