There has never been a time in history when our police officers have been better trained than the present. The type of training delivered, as well as the people that train us, has never been as superb as it is today. Why then do we continue to have increasing numbers of cops hurt and killed? As I look at the Officer Down page today (12/15/06) on Officer.com, I see scores of officers shot, stabbed, and injured in crashes. If in fact we are a well-trained profession, where is the weak link? What is causing us to become victimized? My hypothesis--society is the antecedent.
My sense is that this current generation of Americans does not have the stomach to allow our gatekeepers to perform their job in a manner that will allow them to stay safe. When I first started policing with the Chicago Police Department in 1971, we had a force continuum that was comprised of a baton and a revolver. In fact the very notion of a "use of force continuum" had yet to be conceptualized. When we were confronted with someone that was non-compliant, most of the time we verbally warned them to stop what they were doing and comply. If they failed to do so, we then proceeded to kick them in the butt. If that did not work, we would resort to our nightstick to "make an impression." This manner of operating with very limited tools available was still enough to inculcate respect from those that we were charged to police.
In a column that appeared in November 2006 on Officer.com, entitled The Emerging Trend Of Criminal Complacency, I described how criminals operate under the assumption that we will either hesitate to act, or not act at all, in response to their law-breaking. They know that we fear repercussions from society for our actions, more that we fear being hurt by the criminals. We allow that "reaction gap" to become larger and larger, and give the bad guys more latitude than we should, simply because we do not want to be a part of tomorrow's headlines. You have seen the headlines that I am referring to:
- Man Tased By Cop For Not Showing License
- Man Shot In Back By Trigger-Happy Cop
- Grandmother Sprayed By Impatient Cops
You have seen these or similar headlines in every city across this nation. They all share a central theme--society wants everyone to feel good about everything. Society's goal is for everyone to be comfortable, never be challenged, never be stressed, never be accountable, never have to earn anything, never have to accept defeat or failure, and above all, never have to be questioned by police officers.
Civil libertarians and left wingers will characterize the behavior of my generation of police officers as brutish and overbearing. Yet, when all we had to work with was our hands and the revolver, we were treated with much more respect than today's police officer. And yes, sometimes that respect was born of fear, but I submit to you that fear can be a good thing in the genre of policing. Fear is healthy; it causes clear delineations to be drawn between good and bad behavior. If fear causes people who are otherwise disposed to committing crime and displaying unacceptable behavior not to follow through on that conduct, then fear is a crime deterrent. When there are definite, unpleasant consequences for bad and/or criminal behavior, people will think twice about breaking the law. Moreover, if there are immediate, harsh consequences associated with injuring or killing a police officer, then people will show more respect for cops.
We, as a profession, are becoming too passive. We are allowing society to diminish our authority, even though we are society's first line of defense. Every time they take away another piece of our ability to do our job more effectively, we become more passive. We accept defeat, rather than challenge society on issues like excessive force. We need force to do our job; most times the force has to be dominating and overwhelming. We have to control a situation from the outset. You do not gain control being diplomatic. The TASER and PepperBall weapons are quickly becoming considered too dangerous, yet without those types of weapons we have to either shoot someone or stand toe to toe with them. I don't think anyone's oath of office included verbiage indicating they were being paid to "duke it out" with anyone who is non-compliant.