Looking back through a half-century of policing, the turmoil of the anti-war and civil rights years, the integration of women, people of color, and those with differing sexual orientations into our ranks, the excitement of putting into practice the new and exciting concepts of problem-oriented policing, getting close to, and working with, the people we served, and being able, from time to time to remain above the occasional and embarrassing times we were sullied by the graft, corruption, false testimonies and excessive force by fellow officers, I must say that the situation we and our nation’s police find ourselves in today is a new low.
Maybe it has been caused by the explosion of smart phones and social media, maybe people are not as respectful to police as they were in the past, but maybe it’s because police are taking the lives of too many people who are unarmed. The impact of this on our nation is enormous.
Is it a trend? We don’t know because police departments in our nation are not required to report these shootings. They are voluntary and some cities simply do not report.
Policing in America is at a tipping point. The number of police killings may be important, but the fact is that one mistake, one young persons life extinguished in circumstances many people think is outright wrong is one too many.
What can police do? The first step is to stop the killing. Yes, I am being harsh especially to those of you who, with great control in your own use of force, selflessly serve. But you know that policing is a field in which the behavior of a few impact your ability to do a good job and be trusted.
Stop killing the unarmed must be your first step — review your policies, review your training, review the tools of force you use, review your attitudes about people — listen to your hearts — you know this must stop.
The task of policing is a learning and teaching adventure about the proper handling of people. It is 90% relational and 10% coercive. I firmly believe that if today’s police officers look at this problem they will come to understand that the first step forward to restore trust and support of those whom they serve is to stop using deadly force on those who are unarmed. And coming to that understanding, and with the help of their communities, they can make the necessary changes and share the improvement steps they are taking with their communities.
If they less, they will have failed to rebuild the trust that is absolutely necessary between police and citizens in a free society — and they must do it now!