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Redesigning the police

People in America, and particularly those in minority communities, say they are afraid of their police. We should do everything we can to change that. Policing is an extraordinarily local matter and I don’t think anyone can suggest effective global fixes. Here in Virginia, I mostly encounter some mix of state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and officers with the city’s police department. These thoughts are based entirely on my own, local experience. It’s also worth noting that I’m not referring to SWAT or riot police or any sort of elevated situation—I’m talking about ordinary cops.

My own few and mostly benign encounters with police have left me fearful. By and large, they do not appear to be for me. To the extent that this is an issue of poor training, bad policy and/or the violence endemic to men’s hearts, I am a very poor source of advice. But, to the extent that this is a design problem—I have a few thoughts.

Protectors of the peace

My first suggestion has to do with both language and posture. I think we should work to modify the most common term I hear for police: Law Enforcement Officers. Right off the bat (or billy club, if you like), we citizens are led to believe that the role of policemen and policewomen is to enforce the laws. I find this problematic in an open and liberal society that is, mostly, at peace. Police exist to protect people and their property from tangible harm—pure and simple. They respond to calls and investigate crimes. They are a public security service. The courts and penal system exist to do the actual enforcement; with the tremendous benefit of lawyers and without the fear and confusion of the moment. Police should be equated with peace.

This makes a black Mustang or a giant SUV with a brush guard a poor choice of police vehicle. It also renders anything the average person associates with soldiers, combat and war a significant branding problem.

Design recommendation: Drop the adversarial aesthetic.


So, how do we signal this new imagination for police? I’m of the opinion that the police sidearm should be increasingly rare. I’d like off-duty cops to carry as much as possible, along with other responsible citizens. But, the ever-present pistol sends an unmistakeable signal: if you break the law, I am prepared to end your life right here, right now. I don’t think for most of us, in most places, that’s what we want from our police. Long guns in the trunk of the car? Absolutely. High caliber handguns? No, thank you.

The method and means of immediate adjudication should be proportionate to the sorts of crimes likely to be encountered. It’s become quite clear that many in our society don’t think homicide is ever an appropriate response to drug possession, petty theft or resisting arrest.

Design recommendation: Rock your radio and flashlight, lose the Glock.

The ‘hood’ in hoodlum

I believe that this is, by far, the simplest and most straightforward way to dramatically improve our relationships with our police. Officers should be stationed and on patrol in the communities in which they themselves live.

Like I said, policing is local. It’s intimate. Police officers should know and be known by the individuals in the communities they serve. This means a higher number of smaller police stations in neighborhoods according to density and need. If a veteran police officer doesn’t know the first names of at least half the people he or she encounters every day, we’re doing it wrong. Context matters.

Design (and dance) recommendation: Move to your own beat.

Red and blue

In a branding or design exercise, we’re always looking for points of reference. For police, I think local fire departments offer some helpful instruction. They, too, protect residents and their property from harm. They live and work nearby so they can come when they’re called. They bring only the tools required to attend to the task at hand.

Design recommendation: Reorient toward service and consider getting a Dalmatian.

God bless police officers and their families. It’s a tough job and it’s not getting any easier. Here’s to designing a better future.

Written by

Agrarian designer from Virginia.

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