This week: To Protect and Serve Edited by: Kitti
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|Do you trust the police? Do you feel that the relationship between the police and the communities they serve can be improved? If so, how?|
This week's Action/Adventure Newsletter is all about the future of law enforcement.
|If you have ever read one of my newsletters, you'll know that there's plenty I take issue with in this world. Today, for reasons that are no doubt obvious, I want to talk about the police.|
I grew up to trust the police. Every year, in the city I grew up in, there was a fire brigade and police force event and it was excellent fun. It was held in a big park, and you can imagine how amazing it is for children to be able to climb into fire trucks, to ride in police cars and on the back of a motorbike, to watch the well-trained dogs, ask loads of questions... It was a blast, and helped me to see not just what the fire brigade and police officers do, but also how they are an important part of the community. They're not some unapproachable force; they know the people in the area, and we know them, and if we work together the community will be a safer, happier place.
I went on to work for the police. It was drilled into me from day 1 that:
You serve the community with the consent of the community.
This consent is conditional – we must continue to earn it.
The use of force is the last option. Always. If unavoidable, use no more than is absolutely necessary.
I don't know what policing's like in the Netherlands these days, but back then we stuck by those rules because to protect and serve has to mean something. When I read news articles about the latest incident of police brutality, and then look at the comments on social media, I'll inevitably encounter the argument that you don't know what it's like to be in that situation. That it's frightening, and stressful. Adrenaline's pumping. You don't know what the suspect's going to do, so you do all you can to protect yourself and your colleagues. And I think yes, it is scary. It is tense. You cannot read the suspect's mind. You've got to think fast. Act fast. But protect and serve extends to suspects, too. You still have a duty to use minimal force. Even when someone's threatening, or violent. You're not there to brawl. You turn a volatile situation into a safe situation and bring the person in. The system will take care of the rest.
Whenever an incident hits the press there's speculation about the innocence of the victim. I understand that the suffering of an innocent person can feel worse than the suffering of someone who was caught in the act, or someone who has a record, but what often seems to be forgotten is that there is no excuse. It is not the police's role to be judge and jury. It is not their role to mete out punishment. There is no excuse for using more force than necessary. For the lack of regard, the lack of respect, the lack of understanding of the rights and the dignity of one's fellow human being.
There is no excuse for the force circling the wagons rather than investigating what happened. No excuse for protecting officers known to be violent and cruel. No excuse for victims and their families failing to find justice. No excuse for the 'us versus them' mentality that has arisen between forces and the communities they are meant to serve.
It's no wonder that there are many people who no longer feel that they can trust the police. Here in the UK there are many accounts of racism, violence, misogyny, corruption and goodness knows what else, and when I look at the United States, well, I'd be frightened, too, if I were ever stopped by a cop.
I don't know what can be done at this point, other than to rebuild the police force from the ground up. In order to do this, serious questions need to be asked. Questions like:
What is the police force?
Who and what does it serve?
What are its powers and, importantly, what are the restrictions on these powers?
What qualifies a person to be a police officer?
What training should police officers receive?
What rights does a community have to withdraw its consent when officers – or an entire force – become problematic?
I certainly feel that more training, and more understanding are required, even at the most basic level – it needs to be understood that just as it's natural for police officers to feel frightened and tense, it's frightening and stressful to find yourself faced with screaming officers pointing a weapon at you. When frightened, confusion can set in. Reaction times can slow down. The body can freeze up, limbs can move in the wrong direction. That's not an indication of guilt, but of humanity.
It's even more difficult for people with a developmental delay, or with a motor disorder. People with mental health problems. We are each of us different; we aren't robots, and it's terrifying that completely natural reactions can cost one one's life.
We should certainly ask questions of the state; of governments which underpin the broken branches of the system. We need some kind of police force – just think for a moment what would happen if there were none – but there ought to be thorough, genuine reform.
I want a police force that is a part of the community once more. I want cops who know and care about the people in their neighbourhood. Police officers who are approachable. Trustworthy. Who don't treat you with automatic suspicion because of race, of faith, or whatever the latest profiling may be. And, yes, I want to see cops having snowball fights with kids, and dancing in pride parades, should they feel so inclined, because that's community, that's how you build bridges, and understanding, and the kind of relationship necessary to do the job.
It's time for real action. For rebuilding, restructuring, possibly redefining. In fact, it's long overdue.
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Wishing you a week filled with inspiration,
The Action/Adventure Newsletter Team
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