It occurred to me the other day that the challenges faced by law enforcement professionals never get reduced… but seem to always grow. All too often it seems like that growth includes both new challenges being added and some of those new challenges magnify longer standing challenges. Let me try to describe what I mean…
Way back in the 1950s (as the example) officers didn’t have as many force options on their belt or “in their toolbox.” They had batons and guns. Their choice of force was judged much more on basic common sense and the “bad guys” were treated like, well, bad guys. Since that time, the number of force options has been increased four or five fold. Now we have guns, electronic control devices, chemical weapons, expandable batons, less-lethal options, etc. We also now have several evolutions of Use of Force models and decades of case decisions that now get pulled into every review of an officer’s Use of Force. New challenges (force options) were added and with each one, the challenge of justifying a selected Use of Force became a bigger challenge. Follow me?
Three new challenges, or growing challenges, that I identified were:
- “Society” teaching younger generations that law enforcement is purely punitive;
- “Society” spreading the image that law enforcement is generally anti-gun;
- New hires that have professionally harmful but not disqualifying values.
Those three items will be the topics of this series of blog entries, with this blog being about #1: “Society” teaching younger generations that law enforcement is purely punitive.
This is something that every cop is familiar with. If you spend any amount of time on the street, more especially if you’re on foot patrol someplace where moms and dads have kids with them out and about… Inevitably at some point you’ll be seen by mom or dad, child will misbehave (or sometimes the misbehavior isn’t even necessary) and the parent will point you out to the child and say, “You’d better behave or that officer will lock you up.” Sometimes they get REAL arrogant and say, “You’d better behave or I’ll have that policeman lock you up.” As if they can simply TELL you to arrest their child and you will.
We all know better, but that child does not and I GUARANTEE you that it’s not the only time that parent has said that. What’s worse is when it’s grandma saying that to grandchild and you can bet your life that grandma taught mom the same thing, so the child is hearing that exact same THREAT from two trusted adults in their life.
And make no mistake, it IS a threat coming from that parent and, to me, it’s an indicator that they’ve failed to properly discipline the child. Why else would they have to threaten the kid with you or me? If the parent or grandparent was confident in their ability to shape the child’s behavior, they wouldn’t have to threaten the child with you. Unfortunately, at this point, we’re now seeing two or three generations of kids having been taught this and now they’re passing that lesson onto their children.
Every time I hear a parent say that I go out of my way to get down at that child’s level, even if it means taking a knee (and it usually does), and reassure them that they have no reason to be afraid of me; that I’ll never arrest them unless they actually break the law – which is different from misbehaving – and that they should always come find me if they’re scared, lost or something else and need help. It amazes me that the parents so often looked aggravated because I had the audacity to reassure their kid that I’m not a threat.
That said, even if every officer takes such action every time s/he hears such a threat uttered by a parent, there’s just no way we can let every child know that we’re not a threat; we’re trusted members of society and they should come to us for help. Add to that the fact that the mainstream media outlets seem to do all they can to sensationalize “news” in such a way as to make law enforcement look at best neglectful or at worse out of control and homicidal, and we have two or more whole generations of people who view us as nothing more than a controlling punitive armed force.
THAT is the challenge we face and have to offset. THAT is the challenge that we need to recognize and develop programs specifically to address. Addressing such means having a strategy that directly neutralizes the misperception and develops building blocks of trust to shift the perception in a direction that is more beneficial for us: that turns the negative attitude that has been built across the past two generations (at least) and then not only takes root but also grows into future generations. So we need to not just convince current generations that we’re not purely punitive but we need to do so in a way that they are motivated to teach their younger generations that we’re NOT the bad guys.
Any thoughts you all have on how to accomplish this goal, or even observations you’d like to make on this challenge, are appreciated. Next blog entry will be about Item #2: “Society” spreading the image that law enforcement is generally anti-gun.
Until then, Stay Safe!