Don’t Place Cops in Impossible Positions Police Shouldn’t Be Enforcers of Failed Policies BY DAN KLEIN Three more cops are dead, and everyone is wondering how and why we got here. Is it the militarization of police departments? A war on cops? A small percentage of bad cops tainting the entire profession? A refusal of
Don’t Place Cops in Impossible Positions
Police Shouldn’t Be Enforcers of Failed Policies
BY DAN KLEIN
Three more cops are dead, and everyone is wondering how and why we got here.
Is it the militarization of police departments? A war on cops? A small percentage of bad cops tainting the entire profession? A refusal of the profession to rid itself of the bad actors? An accelerating collapse of civil society?
In my mind, those are simplistic answers to the many complex and long-standing problems that now must be addressed. But so far, I haven’t heard anyone talking about this.
First, don’t blame all of this on the cops. Blame some of it on your local and national leaders who have turned cops into back-door tax collectors and “heavies” who have been set against the poor in a twisted effort to provide revenue streams for their police departments and cities.
Cops are enforcing bad policy, and they are enforcing it very well. Think about it. Should cops really be issuing tickets for jaywalking, broken tail lights and people selling individual cigarettes to make a few bucks? Would they be writing those tickets if they weren’t being forced to and ordered to bring in money for their cities? I doubt it.
So here are some of my thoughts regarding these many dynamics that must all be addressed.
- Laws that serve only to put police in direct conflict with the poor—laws against sleeping in your car and feeding the homeless and panhandling etc. The politicians enact these laws and then express surprise when the poor react violently. We need to scale back some of these laws.
- Jurisdictions that feed off the poor. Places like Ferguson, Mo., where the number one ticket is for jaywalking. Once a person (always a poor person) gets into this web, the courts and cities feed off of them like vampires, never letting them get free. And we wonder why minor incidents lead to violence.
- Broken windows (zero tolerance policies) and stop-and-frisk. Again, enacted by those in power to order police officers into poor communities under the guise of giving up your rights with the promise of safety. You never see these activities on Wall Street. It’s politicians again overstepping and using the cops as enforcers instead of servants.
- The war on drugs, which has placed large numbers of poor people in prison for long periods of time. The rich either are not targeted or their crimes are given much less time behind bars. End the war on drugs.
Now is the time to tell the politicians and business leaders that instead of using the police as heavies to enforce unfair laws, the politicians and business community should help bring the poor areas out of economic gloom. That is not a law enforcement’s job. We do not need to go to civil war with our own citizens. There will be those that say we cannot afford this, but the money is there. Cut defense spending and money sent to other countries. Spend it at home. Having a strong national defense will mean nothing if the country is torn apart from the inside.
Here are things we need to do
- A return to community policing where an officer is not judged on how many tickets and arrests he makes, but in his helping of the community. Not every broken taillight deserves a ticket. Not every jaywalker deserves a ticket. How about getting back to being a part of the community and not being the enforcer in the community?
- Leaders of the poor communities must tell their people to stop the violence as it will only make their lives more difficult. They must embrace police officers as servants to all. Police chiefs must reject a call to arms against their own citizens.
- We should make it illegal at the local and national levels for the proceeds from tickets and arrests to go to fund police agencies or the court system.
- The U.S. Department of Justice should go to court on behalf of the poor and people of color to make criminal penalties illegal for minor traffic offenses and non-violent drug crimes.
We are a country of many and we need to, right now, embrace the poor and disenfranchised before this spins out of control into a war between the rich and the poor, with the beat cop stuck in the middle.
We can either slip into the abyss where police officers are used to keep the poor in line, or we can work together and redefine police officers jobs. Cops should be ambassadors to their citizens, not heavies who nickle-and-dime them to death over minor infractions. Police chiefs must willing to set a new bar of service to all. The same service Tanoan receives is the same service 500 Grove Street Southeast should receive.
Have we crossed a line of no return? Or are we just at the line?
Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him on Facebook.
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