The Illusory Power of the Uniform

We can all relate to the feeling you get when a police officer pulls up behind you while driving on the street or the freeway, you immediately change the way you are driving in response to that presence. You may check your speed and slow down a bit, you may start to be more conscientious of the use of your turn signals, and why do we do this? The simple answer is because we are nervous. Even if you are not doing anything wrong, no one wants to get pulled over, just the presence or sight of a police officer is enough to instill fear in anyone.

In recent years the attitude towards police officers has shifted; while we once looked to cops to “protect and serve” our communities, now the citizens faith has turned fear. The power of that uniform has an undeniable ability to alter our behaviors, as Angela Davis discusses in her book Are Prison’s Obsolete?. While Davis writes mostly in regards to corrections officers, her book mentions that under the guise of the uniform many of the things that corrections officers’ do would be illegal, such as the strip searches they force inmates to undergo. Davis also takes it a step further by mentioning the racial profiling aspect that is ever-present in the way police officers patrol and who they decide to pull over or harass, or even kill. She mentions that there has been a racialization of crime and that it is possible to be targeted by the police for no other reason than the color of one’s skin. Police departments in major urban areas have admitted to the existence of formal procedures that are designed to maximize the amount of Latinos and African Americans that are arrested, even in the absence of probable cause. This is a blatant declaration that our police system is corrupt and yet there is no reform taking place within the system, cops are still killing people every day and getting away with it.

This made me question what the root of the problem truly was, clearly the white patriarchal system we live in is corrupt in itself, but it made me wonder about the police officers themselves and the training that they received while attending their respective police academies. So I began to research the police academy training procedures, qualifications, and tests that were required in order to become a police officer, I specifically chose to look at the LAPD and what I found was very intriguing. In order to apply to become a police officer for the LAPD you must complete 7 steps; which include a background check, a medical and psychological evaluation, a physical abilities test, a polygraph test, and a department interview among other things. That seems pretty standard right?

After that I began to look at the qualifications, well first of all you only need to be 21 to become a police officer, you need minimal schooling and you do not even have to be a resident of Los Angeles county to apply or work for the LAPD. The most important thing is your background essentially; they want to see that you have historically made good life decisions such as financially and behaviorally.

Once you pass these stages then you are sent to the LAPD Police Academy where you learn a variety of extensive skills such as: academics, driving, firearms training, human relations, law, physical training, tactics, and in some cases specific training for other positions. Under all of these categories are multiple sub-categories, which I won’t go into, but the expectations are great and they potential officers only have 6 months to learn all of it! Yes, that’s right I said 6 months, if your jaw is not on the floor right now than it probably should be because that is an insanely short amount of time to absorb all of that information, and to actually retain it along with all of the physical expectations, it has to be nearly impossible. Yet we are sending out these poorly trained officers into our communities every day, and we are paying them really well! On average a starting police officer makes about $57,420 a year and they give you a raise after their first 6 months on the job to $60,552. What is being taught to these officers in the police academy is another question that the site did not go into detail about, but with the amount of information they are expected to learn in such a short time their poor policing seems only inevitable. It is because of this hasty education they are receiving that we are ending up with communities that are scared of their police officers, and who wouldn’t be? I would not want someone who is poorly trained and emotionally and psychologically ill prepared to handle the situations they are forced to deal with on a daily basis attempting to protect me, and with loaded weapons no less.

There was a really sad moment in my Gender and Race in the United States class when a student raised her hand and asked what she could do to prevent the police from possibly shooting her if they potentially stopped her. My teacher answered honestly and told the girl that there was nothing she could really do, other than just try and behave as calmly and cooperatively as possible with the officer. This was a heartbreaking response, and it made me realize that when we are more afraid of our police officers killing us than protecting us, that is when we need to stand up and fight for a social revolution. Police officers cannot keep hiding behind the power of their uniforms and getting away with mistreating or even killing the citizens of the communities they are sworn to protect, it is not right and it must be stopped.