It All Matters: Policing the Future of America

Several weeks ago, protesters with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement lowered the American flag and raised the Black Lives Matter flag outside the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s annual meeting in Chicago. It was a symbolic gesture, removing all that America stands for and replacing it with a social movement. In recent months, the BLM movement has picked up steam as witnessed through major protests staged in Baltimore, New York, and Boston.

In Chicago, several hundred people marched from the police headquarters to the civic center where law enforcement leaders from around the globe had come together to discuss current issues facing modern policing. Protesters marched in support of increased funding for black communities and decreased funding for police.

These protests come in the wake of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report citing that violence against law enforcement is rising. The 2014 report of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty reflects a 50% increase in officer deaths by criminal act over those occurring in 2013. While these are the most recent numbers, we increasingly hear how the police were targets of violence in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, where civil unrest took on a violent, destructive dimension. This year alone, the nation has witnessed the cold-blooded murder of four police officers in New York City. Violence is on the upswing and sadly, police have become the target. Yet the reality is that the police are motivated by the government, the law, and the citizens they are sworn to protect and will continue to serve regardless of the danger they face.

Policing does not cause crime. Poverty and unemployment in low income neighborhoods are two situations where crime runs rampant. Policing did not create this situation. American police departments as a whole are not the problem. Some departments, just like any employer, has its share of bad apples. Do some officers go rogue, misbehave and generate complaints? Of course, but they are not indicative of the entire police department. Before we categorically assert that the police is broken and in need of repair, we need to look deeper. We need to look at the entire infrastructure of the city and the city officials who are responsible for the oversight of the communities they manage. Local government officials should work together to address the poverty problem and I don’t mean just creating more government programs or increasing public assistance. Community governments need to look for ways to revive their cities and attract new businesses to the area, which will in turn create more jobs; not seek to only provide basic services and welfare. The government should engage community members and enlist their assistance in improving the city, as well as educational and job training opportunities.

The reality is that when no one else in a city will deal with poverty or unemployment, the police have no choice. Police go when they are called. And they are often called to areas with low employment rates and high levels of poverty. Police are employed to keep the law, and to move lawbreakers into the criminal justice system.

The problems of the criminal justice system are real and the problems are frustrating for everyone involved. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is advocating for reforms to keep minority populations out of the system altogether. Lawmakers pass unenforceable laws or impose unfunded mandates. Courts issue rulings that impose unreasonable standards of proof and serve only to undermine public respect for the law. All of these issues, combined with the fact that many police officers find that certain laws defeat the very objective they were designed to serve, undermine the criminal justice system.

The frustration builds when, in the end, the public doesn’t see the whole story. They only see the cop on the street, the cop who, for them, represents the entire government system. After all, the police typically respond to every type of emergency and non-emergency situation for which they are dispatched.

Because of situations like those that occurred in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, police actions are second guessed by special investigators and the media who, instead of dealing with facts, fall victim to political agendas and sometimes paint the police as the picture of evil.

Crime in America is not a race issue; it’s a right and wrong issue. This nation is diverse with leaders of all races, religions, and genders. It is important for the police of this nation to reflect the communities they represent, including those inclusive of different backgrounds, races, and religions. The community and local governments should work with the police to improve relations and communicate the type of services they expect from their police department. Policing is a partnership with the public, it is not, nor should it ever be, an issue of whose life matters more. The point is ALL lives matter.

Police are charged with the duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to serve their community. They are expected to deter crime, handle social and psychological issues and, all the while, maintain positive working relationships with the residents of the neighborhoods they patrol. They are expected to comfort in times of trouble, give a stern talking to when warranted and chase down criminals at the drop of a hat, all while maintaining a deep knowledge of criminal law, agency policy and the latest court ruling.

These expectations are high for someone who often has to make split-second, life-altering decisions that are based on his or her personal experiences, training, and work environment. Pressure is high when the officer knows that every move they makes is scrutinized by their supervisor, their department, the public and the criminal justice system. Policing is a tough business, but each officer has taken an oath to serve his or her community. Many officers entered the profession wanting to make a difference, wanting to improve their community and to help others. It is unfortunate that police now find themselves in the mist of civil unrest and the object of hatred.

Americans need to work together to address the important issues facing our communities. These social issues will not fix themselves, and the police can’t fix them either. It will take the entire community coming together to improve their city, because in the end it all does matter. It matters for our future, it matters for the betterment of society, and it matters because no one should lose their life in a senseless tragedy or become the target of someone else’s hatred.

KMH is a contributor to the Homeland Security HSVortex which is a platform where insiders from the policy, law enforcement, fire service and emergency management fields converge to discuss issues related to Homeland Security.

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