There are a couple of things about modern policing that I see as clearly problematic and, at least to some degree, at the root of many of our problems concerning law enforcement today. Perhaps most significantly, the motto “To Protect and Serve” has been replaced – although it’s not acknowledged publicly – with “Come Hell or High-Water This Cop is Going Home Tonight!”
Why is that a problem? Cops should go home after work, right? Right. But it’s a problem because being a police officer is an inherently tense job with constant conflict (that’s the basic job-description) and there's some risk involved. An officer will often be confronted with potentially dodgy situations that may or may not – the vast majority, in fact not – be dangerous in any way at all. The fact is that law-enforcement, statistically speaking, isn't even in the top-ten of dangerous jobs in America (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/04/the-10-most-dangerous-jobs-for-men.html); interestingly, garbage-man is on that list!
The point is: If the only thing that truly matters is “Going Home Tonight,” and you have a gun and the authority to use it whenever you see fit, then f—king kill ‘em all and let god sort ‘em out! Because I’m f—king going home tonight! Well, I see that as a serious problem. In fact, with this mindset, I’m surprised the cops don’t kill a hell of a lot more people.
Here's the thing; I get that Cops have a right to defend themselves but at the same time there are some risks involved in the job. In fact, “some risk” is a part of the job description.
It's kind of like joining the circus to be a lion-tamer; you can't make that job 100% risk free – there are inherent risks – and if you did make lion-taming 100% risk free you wouldn't have much of an act worth watching.
So to my thinking, Cops are the lion-tamers and you can't just shoot the first lion that roars at you. So, sorry, if you can't show restraint in your cowardly urge to kill something in self-defense at the first sign of trouble, for god's sake, whatever you do, don't become a lion-tamer.
Or a police officer.
Another problem relates to the long-held practice of recruiting police almost exclusively from the armed-services; if you served you get extra points on the entrance tests and the vast majority of police officers have served in one or another branch of the military. This has always been the case and made perfect sense as; after all, the police force is at it's core a paramilitary institution.
There are, however, some real, glaring drawbacks with this arrangement that are very specific to today. The main problem is that we have an all-volunteer military today which means that, as the United States has been in a state of perpetual war for many years now, just about all the cops on the force today actually knew they were going to see combat when they joined the military, in fact, they volunteered to be in combat.
These are not the same people who were drafted (when we had a draft) from every part of society and walk of life. This is a very specific, select group of people on the police force today, in many ways more mercenaries than average people who just naturally avoid combat like the plague! I believe that many (most?) of these officers de-humanize the public – those they are sworn to “Protect and Serve” – the same way they once de-humanized the enemy – both combat and noncombatant, just like they were trained to do in the service. The thinking: You simply can’t have a bunch of reluctant-to-pull-the-trigger-soldiers in a combat situation.
And I suppose that makes sense. But what might make perfect sense in warfare makes absolutely no sense back here in the civilian world. Every single one of us, cops and civilians alike, are supposed to be very reluctant-to-pull-the-trigger on our fellow citizens. It’s one of the hard/fast rules that allow a diverse society like ours to function.
Which brings us to the race issue. To white officers in our culture (and especially in their unique cultural sub-set) black people are already “the others” and it’s damn easy to de-humanize “the others,” and it’s relatively easy to kill someone you’ve already de-humanized.
Interestingly, this “others” concept is not exclusive to white officers. Even African-American police officers often come to see the black community as “the others.” The force becomes their family as they come to rely more on their fellow police officers than the black community; and, African-Americans, their genetic peers, become nothing more than “the others/enemy.”
(NOTE: I’m not “spreading the guilt around,” nor am I suggesting black officers are just as much to blame as white officers for police racism and racist abuses by police forces around the country. I am simply addressing a sociological phenomenon – “in-Group/Out-Group Behavior” – honestly.)
As Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) tells Decker (Harrison Ford) in “Blade Runner” (1982), “If you're not cop, you're little people. (read: you’re unimportant)” and that’s all we “not cop” are to many of them. (If you think cops treat everyone equally, watch this: https://youtu.be/Bf1lYYEn4dE.)
I’m not even going to get into the myriad possible/probable PTSD issues we may have to confront.
I have a friend I’ve known for many years who became a police officer. A few days after he graduated from the police academy I ran into him at a neighborhood bar we both frequented. “You just can’t believe how racist the academy is,” he told me over a couple of beers, “it’s like they specifically teach racism! I mean, they really hate black guys! Even the black cops are racists as hell when they get out!”
Please understand, this wasn’t the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Academy in the 1950s; this was San Francisco, California – the most liberal city in America – and it took place in the early-mid 1990s! And, my friend was not one to exaggerate or tell stories nor was he personally an overly sensitive, touchy-feely Über-liberal. In fact, he’s a high-ranking officer on the same police force to this day. I’d like to believe that in the 20 or so years since this friend attended the academy things have changed for the better but, despite what is probably a ton of “lip-stick on the pig,” at some level, I’m sure not a thing has changed (www.sfgate.com/...). Cops are still cops and Cop-culture is still Cop-culture. We’ve just managed to add a bunch more layers of sh-t on it.
The bottom line is I'm not saying that cops are inherently bad people but there are some very specific dynamics concerning police that will inevitably lead to bad outcomes.