Police do not carry firearms for personal protection…
The idea that they do, I think, is one of the big misnomers which has led to the rogue cops we have seen saturating the media. The purpose of police carrying a firearm is so that if an individual becomes dangerous to the rest of the populace, that police officer can eliminate the threat. It is NOT so that they can protect themselves against dangerous criminals.
We seem to have forgotten that a person is innocent of a crime until proven guilty by a jury of their peers. This means that police officers are here to serve the suspected criminal as much as sweet Grammy Joe who brings doughnuts to their cruiser every Thursday. A police officer does not have the right to shoot a suspect on the simple fact that they are fleeing, as I have seen in one video. A police officer does not have the right to escalate to violence because a suspect is being verbally belligerent as I have seen in another video. Violence, lethal or otherwise is a tool which the police officer can utilize to serve and protect the community, not himself or herself.
Police officers do not have the same kind of right to self preservation that the rest of us have. I will say that again, police officers do not have the same kind of right to self preservation that the rest of us have. That may be controversial, but it shouldn’t be. If you sign up to protect and serve the community, then you make a commitment to place the community over yourself and you have an obligation to face your own mortality in a way that the rest of the community does not. This is why we honor you, because you have chosen a profession which, when carried out properly, is incredibly honorable.
So if you are obliged to place the good of the community, both individuals and the community as a whole, above your own, and if even a suspected criminal is a member of the community, then you have an obligation to place even his or her life above your own. You do not get to immediately think of self preservation. This is one of the biggest differences between a police officer and a member of the armed forces. The military deals with enemy combatants or at best, civilians who we wish to protect but do not have the same kind of obligation towards (this is a topic for another time). Police officers have an obligation to attempt deescalation, and to bring everyone out of a difficult situation alive, because police officers are not soldiers.
*Let me be very clear about one thing, if a person poses a legitimate physical danger to a police officer then there is a good chance that they pose a danger to the rest of the community as well. I fully support lethal force when it is appropriate. But especially in this day of big brother, escalating a scenario is often likely to put the community in more danger than letting a situation die down, conducting an investigation, and going after the suspect in a more controlled manner.*
Yet we habitually see language of war (never mind formerly military equipment) used in police operations. The ‘war on drugs’ has caused more harm to the communities than it has helped. The purchase of armored personel carriers likely shows that your department has lost the faith of the community. If you are there to serve the community, it is a clear sign of failure if that community does not trust you.
If you think this is backwards. If you think that because they are so honorable, that they are more valuable than the scum which they put in prison. If you hear of a cop using lethal force and think ‘good’ then you are part of the problem. You have clearly lost sight of two of the most important foundations of the American identity, that we are all of equal value, and that we are innocent until proven guilty. And even when a person is guilty, we should not vilify them. We should not assume that that could not have been us in a different world. People make mistakes. The goal of the justice system is, or ought to be, correction, and turning an individual who has made poor life choices back into a functioning member of society. Because even if they have made choices which we cannot abide in society, we want to bring them back into the fold. Because we are all equal.
I believe that the job of the police officer is an honorable profession, and I refuse to judge the badge for the actions of a few. But there is an undeniable problem in some of our police departments. Police officers should be fostering a culture where they feel an unbearable shame that there have been some who have risen in the ranks that would act in such a way. They should seek to root out those who see the badge as power rather than a responsibility. They should have the humility to admit when we have failed, and seek to mend the rift between their departments and the communities which they serve. I have high hopes for our men and women in blue, because I believe that the vast majority of them to be people of honor.