I couldn't believe it when I first heard her say it. It was right out of the blue without any prep work. "What?" I asked. "You want me to do what?" Hearing me question her as if I were in a state of shock (I was) my wife walked around the corner of the room, made direct eye contact with me to eliminate any possibility of husband/wife misunderstanding and then said in a calm, but determined voice, "Keith, I want you to buy a rifle." She then turned and walked away.
My mind raced for several minutes. "It couldn't be this simple," I thought. Instinctively I knew that I had either missed something, done something, will be accused of something, whatever, but I also knew what I heard. Things just didn't add up. Since when does a guy get a free pass by their wife to drop a thousand dollars, minimum, at a gun shop? Actually, this was more than a free pass; it was her suggestion! Moments later she went on to say that she preferred that I get a something heavy like a 7.62 NATO. Okay, now I was concerned that I had really, really done something wrong. I needed to find out.
What I found out, after a more in-depth conversation, was that she was intensely worried. You see, my wife is a police officer and over time had started to notice changes to the policing environment to her beat. Within the last two years, it seemed to her, these changes had accelerated. It was a change she had never noticed or before. It is the cyclical changes to policing. I, on the other hand, had been through a few so I knew what she was observing and how she felt, but at the same time I must admit this latest one is a little scary.
Then and Now
If you have been a cop more than ten years you have, whether you knew it or not, have gone through a policing cycle yourself. Similar to life being in a state of flux, the art of policing also changes according to the demands of the environment and attitudes of the community.
Beginning my law enforcement career in the late '80s (Army MP) I remember the era where cops wore their reflective Ray-Bans sunglasses, laughed at Buck Savage Roll Call videos, dreaded watching the Law Enforcement Television Network, drove cruisers that had the same number of right-angels to a shoe box, but more interestingly served a public that responded with clues of intimidation rather than respect.
The Rodney King incident ushered in a new era to policing where it seemed the public had become more distrustful and suspicious of the police. Citizens did not seem to shy away from cops anymore, but got up in our face with cameras. Using a video camera to capture the police doing something wrong and then giving it to the media so they could play the video repeatedly seemed to be symptomatic of the era. I have been videotaped on traffic stops, calls for service, and while making arrests. Policing in the 1990s had become, in my experience, a time where the police and public were more directly adversarial than anything. There was a clear division between the two and the separation felt as if it grew wider daily.
Then the 9/11 attacks came along and made us all heroes, if only for a brief moment in time. The era changed again and it was a complete 180-degree turn within a day. All of a sudden citizens would offer to buy us lunch or dinner, pay for coffee, stop and say hello and introduce their children to us as if we were sports figures. Heck, I even remember signing an autograph once for a parent who asked me for one so that she could give it to her son (that's still weird as I think about it). "But for a moment..." Then came military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Global War On Terror battles, Katrina debacle, more terrorist attack attempts, financial collapse, and now Constitutional legal conflicts between the federal government and individual states over protecting their borders. Here we go again with that separation; it's not a crack in the wall anymore - it's as wide as a river and growing.
I've never professed to be a mathematician, but this one is rather easy. Here we go -
Take what public opinion polls tell us (general public highly dissatisfied with the government at any level)
+ high unemployment linked to alleged political corruption
+ a federal government often seemingly at odds with states' rights and individual freedoms of its citizens
and this all = Impending Disaster.
Now take Impending Disaster and divide it by those tasked with protecting the interests of the government (you, the police officer) and this = TARGET.
Never forget that law enforcement officers in the U.S. obtain and keep their authority to do police-work from the citizenry. There are approximately 900,000 of us, and over 330 million citizens. We can't do squat without the public saying we can. That is a truth cops not only need to fully embrace, but take remember as we take active steps to heal the wounds of separation and solidify the relationship. A police officer's survival depends on it - just ask the thousands of officers who have been laid off over the last twenty-four months from around the nation.
It looks bleak. I've been called a pessimist, but I prefer realist. The U.S. Congress is trying to extend unemployment benefits (that are borrowed) to millions of unemployed Americans just to get them through this coming December, while we are being warned by economists that Round 2 of the financial collapse is coming. I see public dissatisfaction with the government undoubtedly growing, and with each successive failure of our political leadership public sentiment will get worse with no end in sight. What worries me, especially about the current policing cycle we are in, is that certain trip wires exist in our present period of history unlike at any other point. Here are a few:
- Global economy facing potential collapse, which could doom our national economic recovery. All of a sudden Great Depression Part 2. The public is angry.
- Over a million homes foreclosed on in 2010 (more than what did during the Great Depression of the 1930s) and the banks still profited thanks to political action. The public is angrier at seeing thousands of families living outdoors.
- Repeated failures of our federal government to do anything right. Dare I mention BP and the Gulf States? The public is angrier.
- The next cataclysmic event (i.e., terrorism, natural disaster, whatever) where the average American will feel the effect nationally. The public is furious.
Who has the responsibility of reining in the angry masses? You, the police officer. Now you know why my wife was so adamant about me purchasing a rifle. She fears what may be coming. We are standing perilously close to the edge and fear the next major crisis may push us over. This is a new era that is uncharted territory.
So, in the mean time I will be searching for all the equipment reviews that our very own Frank Borelli has done about rifles. I want to purchase one before my wife changes her mind, and hope to God I never need it.
Here is the least you need to know:
- The periods of policing throughout history are cyclical.
- Major, national, events cause how we police to change. Prior to WW2 the changes in era occurred about once every quarter century. After WW2 up until Vietnam it shortened to about a decade or so. Today, arguably, it's every few years. Seems like things are speeding up toward some kind of crescendo doesn't it?
- We get our authority and power from the public, not by Divine Right. Drop the attitude and understand that you can carry a gun, because Mom and Pop Citizen simply allow you to.
- Our relationship with those we serve is fractured and the police need to make every effort to fix the problem (for starters adopt a Service Oriented Policing approach - see POP Guides below).
- The public is angry with the government and you represent the governmental institution. That makes you the closest available target.
- Any number of possible, national, events could put the entire country into chaos unlike anything we have ever seen.