In the latter half of 2019, we saw some perhaps well intentioned Use of Force policy updates and more than a few politically motivated bills presented. All of which would seriously impact how we in law enforcement perform our duties. While all of these new bills (which hopefully won’t become laws), policies, guidelines and more are surely meant to improve how law enforcement functions, many of them are nothing more than feel-good useless, or worse—dangerous—ideas meant to make the public feel like someone is holding police and deputies back from abusing their authority.
The upside is that many agencies have assigned their press information offices and social media managers to make a concerted effort toward showing and sharing the positive side of their work—the pleasant and supportive interactions wherein no enforcement efforts are involved. For some of the old school officers it may seem silly to have to do this and they might not approve of the light those posts present the officers in. “Cops aren’t supposed to be dancing and singing. Where’s the professionalism?”
Like everything else, the profession of law enforcement and how we perform our duties has to evolve. For the “old school” guys, think about how simple the duties were “back in the day.” Patrol and investigations covered almost everything and we added in SWAT. Somewhere along in the late ‘80s Community Oriented Policing got big as we recognized the power of having neighborhood officers that weren’t always sequestered in their patrol vehicles. What has grown since then? SROs, Crime Prevention, DARE, GREAT, a ton of specialty assignments and patrol and investigations. Just as all of those jobs have evolved, the policies and procedures have evolved. But then social media was invented, personal media devices found their way into every person’s hand and all of a sudden video saturation exists like never before. Yes, we have to evolve. We have to adapt. We have to change how we do business or at least better develop our awareness of how often we’re being microscopically examined as we perform our duties.
What will 2020 hold? Unfortunately, more of the same BUT this offers us an opportunity we should take advantage of. As we look back at the first one-fifth of this new century, we need to consider what lessons can be learned and we might just find they are all about perception and what we can do to try and improve how the public we serve perceives us. Make no mistake: This will have to be a concerted nationwide effort, embraced by every agency of all sizes and jurisdiction types. If we’re to turn the tide of public perception, we have to prioritize the effort and engage as close to 100% of uniformed officers as we can manage.
No, we should not limit our enforcement efforts or soften the professional uniformed presence. We should never decrease our officer survival focus but we can balance that with an increased and strategic effort to improve our community relations / service oriented image. When we’re battling mainstream media and a host of politicians, all of whom want to benefit from sensationalizing the smallest mistakes we can make, it behooves us to fight back with our best works of service and “tooting our own horn” so to speak.
Let’s focus as The Thin Blue Line family on changing how people see us. Let’s present such a positive image and so many great works that people simply stop believing the mainstream media narrative.