I don’t know precisely when it happened, this sense, this honor, of being a guardian of others.
Perhaps it was standing watch on the U.S.S. Boxer. I was a Marine protecting those who slept below me those long, dark nights.
Or was it when I took my first oath as a police officer, badge in my pocket, and walked out onto the streets of Minneapolis? A commitment, an oath I just made to serve and defend the people in this city and the founding values of this great nation?
Early or late in one’s career as a police officer it should happen; understanding that you are the first line, the Thin Blue Line, which guards people and stands for community values.
I want everyone to understand that despite some recently highly publicized bad actions on the part of a few police, the rest of our police come to work everyday with the intention of helping others, giving advice and direction, sorting out conflicts, and occasionally having to use some level of force in controlling a bad actor.
The problem lies in what happens after this bad behavior and the problem is that citizens hear no apology, no asking for forgiveness, or pledge from police leaders that this won’t happen again because we will fix it and improve. The silence is what’s causing the tension and mistrust.
Standing, protecting, guarding, serving are over 600,000 police working in 17,000 police agencies. They are contacting, advising, and warning others in their communities around the clock, day in and day out, in sun, rain, and snow. So, I ask you to do the math: police are making millions of daily contacts that are, for the most part, highly satisfactory and without the use of force.
And yes, sometimes things go wrong as they did that day in Ferguson two years ago. And, yes, other egregious incidents appeared weekly in our network news and on the Internet all of which could have been quelled by an apology and promise.
Yet, legions of police continue to go out day and night to serve and protect their communities. They not only guard our towns and cities from thieves, bullies and burglars, they are in themselves the embodiment of the fundamental values of our society. Who else is in the position to do this? Everyone else has regular hours and is not expected to grapple with thieves and bullies. Only our police.
Our nation also has warriors, I served with them. But their mission is to engage and overcome enemies that threaten our borders. As a warrior,; I did not have to be a guardian. My job then was to be a well-trained instrument of violence that did not have the responsibility to mediate domestic disputes or solve neighborhood conflicts while working with community members.
I ask again, “Who else can do this?” And if we were to somehow eliminate our police who would stand in their place? Armed Neighborhood Watchers? Maybe our National Guard?
In the past, II have worked with National Guardsmen who assisted me and my fellow officers when the city in which I policed was out of control and burning in 1968 after Dr. King was murdered.
They stood by to assist us, not replace us. They were our backup. The solution to the trust-problem in which we find ourselves today is not to replace our police but to help them get better, to help them improve.
Since I retired from three decades as a police officer and leader, I have watched, analyzed, commented, and made hundreds of suggestions on this blog about how this improvement should occur. I have stressed the important responsibility we all have, police and citizens alike, of making sure we field police who are formerly educated, properly selected, highly trained, respectful of others, and committed to work closely with the those whom they serve. These police, these frontline guardians of who we are as Americans, must also be properly compensated and closely nurtured and coached by the best among them – their leaders.
We who serve and have served as police have done a fairly good job of protecting and serving those among us who call ourselves white, who have good jobs and feel accepted. But we must realize that we haven’t done the best job with regard to serving non-white America and this among us who do not feel accepted.
When I say this, I often get a push-back from my colleagues. They want to talk about recent pollings: “Look at our acceptance rate, we are highly valued, most people respect us and want to support us.” Yes, I say, that is wonderful, but that’s just part of the job, police in a free and democratic society such as ours must be trusted by everyone. We cannot permit even a small number of citizens in our nation to feel that the police are not there for them, or are to be feared.
We have a long-standing history of not serving everyone. It must stop. This situation cannot be permitted to continue.
Because capitalism unfortunately depends on some citizens winning while other lose, we are in the midst of experiencing a strong populist movement. Those among us who see the American Dream as unattainable, or having once had it, have now lost it. Donald Trump was their answer.
President Trump says he wants to make America great (again) and I support that. I want to live in a great America, too. A great America to me is a nation of laws, ruled by the majority – but with a great and vital caveat – with minority rights. It is a nation which cares for others in the world; a nation that leads with the values and principles of our Founders. That’s what makes us great and will continue to do so.
As frontline guardians of America, it is now time for police and their supporters to stand up, protect, and insure those American principles and values for everyone. If our democratic, constitutionally-based system is to function in the way in which it was intended — fair, lawful, and respectful of the “inalienable” human rights, our nation’s police must play a visible and vocal role.
We who have walked and patrolled our nation’s streets, roads and highways, and those who now do, know this nation works best when police act justly, respectfully, and consider their ability to use force as they carry out their duties to be a trust that is sacred.
The amazing thing in a free society is that police do not have to wait for a President, Attorney General, or any other appointed or elected official in government to make this happen
A new and improved police can come out of historical slave patrols, the years of Jim Crow, and the corruption brought about by the days of Prohibition.
“We the people” is a powerful idea – it should be a clarion call as to who we are as a people. It should be a call for those who guard our towns and cities to assure we all live together as “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Police are in a position to make our nation’s dream come true. It is time to act.