Somehow, because one police officer used excessive force on and killed a civilian, every police officer, of any race or gender, is a racist, brutalizing thug. Aside from the irrational, absurdity of such a perspective, it endangers every one of us, and most of all low-income and minority persons, who bear the heaviest burden of crime.
Being a police officer in America is one of the hardest jobs in the world. You are constantly exposed to danger. You are expected to deal not only with violent and non-violent criminals, but to handle domestic disputes, mentally ill persons and other societal problems. You are not exactly overpaid.
There are bad police officers. There are people who are bad at any job. There are a lot of really bad political leaders and government workers. Because of the nature of their work, police officers are more visible and it is more important that they do their job well. So we should be spending lots of money selecting, training and retaining the best officers.
Given the number and nature of encounters police have with civilians, there are remarkably few bad outcomes. Police kill few civilians every year, and most of those are armed and threatening either the police or others. The number of police killings has dropped significantly in recent years, both in absolute numbers and proportionately to population. The use of other force by law enforcement personnel has also dropped significantly.
In recent days we have seen what police often have to endure, being sworn at, called every kind of offensive name, being spit on, having things thrown at them, including dangerous and flammable projectiles, being run over by cars, knifed and shot at and in some cases killed. In response, they have shown remarkable restraint while attempting to protect themselves, firefighters, other first responders, the general population, and people’s homes and businesses.
They are also now subjected to blame by politicians who are responsible for their hiring, training, and how they carry out their jobs. This is beyond pathetic. And the biggest danger to the public is not excessive use of force, but that good officers, and 99% plus are good officers, decide to quit and that good candidates to become police officers decide not to. We also will inevitably see, as we have in the past, that police officers decide to just avoid any problem that they can avoid; that they in essence stop doing their jobs out of fearing of losing that job or worse.
If you want to see what it looks like to have an ineffective and fearful police force, look at the poorest neighborhoods in any major city. There are parts of Chicago where crime and murder are rampant and the citizens beg for police protection. In the last two weeks, crime has risen dramatically in wake of rioting and abuse of the police.
I am strongly in favor of taking actions that reduce the use of excessive force by the police, such as making discipline of misconduct easier to enforce, spending more on training, and removing certain tasks from police, like dealing with non-violent domestic disputes and mentally ill people. I am strongly opposed to the vituperation directed at the police in general and am horrified that people could even imagine that in our country we could do without a strong police force.
So do something nice for your police officers. Give them a hug, tell them thank you, apologize for the abuse they take from some people, write your political leaders and demand that they support law enforcement personnel while ensuring that there is appropriate discipline for those who engage in misconduct. And above all, show a little empathy and compassion for the very, very difficult role they play in our society.