I'd like to say that there was an easy, simple, two paragraph way to address the systemic problems in our nation's law enforcement community. I wish we could just pass a single law and take care of it all. But, unfortunately, that's not possible. The issue is far too complex: you have everything from style of dress, to command structure, to the blue-code, to the general cynicism and 'us-vs-them' mentality. But not only that, you're dealing with one massive gray area, where some of the same powers and authorities that police use to keep situations calm can easily be used to rob our populations of liberty, or life.
So, this diary then will be an outline of what we need as a nation to just begin the healing process. It's a sad day when retired cops, or people like myself who have worked closely with the overall police/fire structure as a volunteer, can't trust our police officers to have integrity.
Now, I'll say this. I've had mostly excellent encounters with police. I've only been stopped three times, and was never written a ticket or encountered rudeness. But, I'm white, so I have to assume a large part of that is my race combined with my "I'll be respectful and cooperative until you give me reason to not" policy with police. That in itself is pathetic. Now, I did say "mostly excellent". I have had cops attempt to exercise a bit of "I am authoritah" while I was present, and get cocky and rude. Nothing worse than that though.
It's pretty clear to anyone with more than a few neurons left in their brains that not all cops are bad, and bad cops give cops a bad name. That's true. However good cops don't help the situation at all. Command makes it worse, always praising cops for a "good job" even if their actions were far from it. I've never seen a police department or police union issue a statement denouncing the actions of a bad cop, or the overreaction by a department. So, let's start addressing issue number 1: The Blue Code needs to die... now.
This responsibility rests mostly on police officers, command, and the unions. Officers need to recognize that The Blue Code does them a disservice. Whether it is "professional courtesy" or a full fledged cover-up, not holding themselves to an even higher standard than they would anyone else is a major part of what causes the public to distrust cops. Our police officers need constant reminders that integrity is more important than getting the "job done".
Speaking of "getting the job done", the ends don't justify the means
Laws and policies need to make it clear: an officer who violates the rights of a civilian is looking at direct penalties, fines, and possible prison time. Not just riding the desk for a few months. Not paid administrative leave. Unpaid time, community service requirements on the low end, prison time for the worst offenses. When violating the rights of the citizens you are sworn to protect is a mere slap on the wrist, there is no possibility of deterrent. However, if an officer suddenly has to face not making their mortgage payment because they used excessive force, there might be some more discretion. To help with that end, audio/video surveillance by way of dashcams and body cams need to be the rule, not the exception. This way we can distinguish a concussion received because a suspect started a full-on fight with an officer from a concussion received because a cop felt the suspect "deserved it". This also protects the cops from bogus claims. "He stopped me because I was black" is hard to support if the video shows the vehicle running a red light in the first place.
Officers who routinely find themselves before a Civilian Review Board (consisting of randomly selected civilians) for their behavior, regardless of the outcome, are obviously walking a fine line, and either need to be retrained or let go. Once let go, no more work in policing period: time to find a new career at Taco Bell.
Command needs to take a stand by refusing to make statements supporting officers even though their actions were wrong. Come on Chief, have the balls to say "Officer Jones and Lt. Richards screwed up, they embarrassed the department with their actions, they deprived John Q. Public of his/her rights, and they slandered the badge. And for that, they're suspended one month without pay. Both will re-attend the academy, however Officer Jones will be as a Cadet and Lt. Richards is demoted to Officer. This activity is not acceptable in our department, and these reprimands should serve as a significant reminder" instead of "I support the hard work our officers did in taking these drugs off our streets, but regret the lack of judgment displayed in shooting the Mayor's two dogs."
Statements are only the beginning though. Over the years we have seen the steady change of Police into Paramilitary Units. This needs to end. Officers need to return to traditional police uniforms, and not BDUswhen patrolling. It's one thing for SWAT to roll in dressed for war. Everyone else needs to dress professionally.
Furthermore, the steering of veterans to police careers because of their military service alone needs to end. Sorry guys, I know many of you need all the help you can get in finding a job after serving, but maybe try out for the Fire Department? Learn skills to save a life instead of taking one. Unfortunately what we're seeing is former soldiers forgetting they're no longer in the Military, on the field of battle, and treating Downtown whatever-town like a war zone. The degree of latitude you have as a solider is huge (sometimes too much, but that's another topic). The degree of latitude you have as a cop? Significantly smaller.
While these are just some of many possible suggestions, there is one last one that could serve us well. Any officer involved in a shooting should be taken into custody and the investigation treated as a potential criminal act. In most cases this could be done as fast as possible, but in cases where lives were lost, human or domestic animal (included because of the incidents recently where offices were more than trigger happy when faced with a wagging tail), it should be treated as a criminal investigation. Immediate suspension without pay, and lockup in a segregated cell by another agency. If the investigation proves it was justified, the officer can be released with back pay and reinstated. If it wasn't justified, as determined by the outside investigating agency or DoJ, arraignment on charges begins immediately. Harsh, yes, but just the same happens in most areas if I shoot someone on my property: I'm going downtown until they can determine what happened.
Finally, judges and prosecutors need to be expressly instructed to never, at any time, give officers a pass just because they're officers. Yes, they have a hard job. For that, they deserve respect. Yet the difficulty of the job isn't an excuse for taking from others their rights or their lives. The officers who arrested the Washington Post and Huffington Post journalists should be arraigned on false imprisonment and assault charges. Yes, they're in a difficult situation. However, they knowingly violated their right as members of the press to document the situation for the public good. Heat of the Moment isn't a defense unless you want to admit that your training was insufficient for the job and that you had no business wearing the uniform.
If police officers start making many of these changes, above all, holding fellow officers accountable when it's needed, and publicly doing so, the relationship with civilians can begin to heal.
I think most civilians anywhere in the world WANT to trust cops. They want to be able to see them as a force for good, someone who has their back against the evils in this world. But for every cop that saves the life of someone under extraordinary circumstances, there are a dozen or two dozen that have violated the rights of someone via stop-and-frisk, ordering someone to stop recording, shooting someone, beating someone, or killing them with their bare hands. And the simple fact that good cops don't come out and stand up against this prevents even those of us who desperately want to trust cops to think "is today they shoot me? is today they rob me of my rights?" any time a cop comes by.