Regarding the Police

I read an interesting editorial in today’s Virginian-Pilot by Coby W. Dillard addressing the interaction between the police and the citizens. It got me thinking.

My father was a police officer, although he threatened to disown me if I followed his career path. As he approached retirement, he commented that too many of the younger officers thought they were Starsky and Hutch. After retiring he told me that he was proud that in over twenty years on the force he never fired his gun except on the training range. Not even once.

He had his biases, as we all do:

  • People in the richest neighborhoods look at the police as beneath them—almost as servants, and inconvenient ones at that.
  • There are other neighborhoods in which the occupants believe the way to settle any dispute involves using firearms.
  • No matter what you catch someone doing, it’s not their fault, they’re innocent and it’s all a misunderstanding.

I remember when cops walked a beat, and really knew the people. I remember my father stopping home for dinner when his patrol area included our neighborhood. We lived on a dead-end street and all the neighborhood kids would pile into the police car for a ride to the end of the street and back. He didn’t run the siren and lights all the way, just for a few seconds, to the delight of every kid in the car.

What changed?

These are my opinions, biases, and suggestions. I’ve never been a police officer, but as a veteran I’ve borne arms in dangerous areas among people who weren’t to be trusted and were intent on hurting or killing me. I’ve seen death up close and personal a hundred times over. I’m old enough to perhaps even have a little wisdom.

  1. Everyone—both police and non-police—has forgotten that police officers are citizens. It is not police OR citizens. We are all in this together. It’s us; there is no “them.”
  2. Our country has an excellent military. On the other hand, people who are not in the military but who tromp around in military-like regalia don’t impress me. This ranges from the open-carry self-appointed militia bubbas to small town police with government surplus MRAPs (mine resistant ambush protected vehicles) and grenade launchers. By the way, MRAPs get about six to eight miles to the gallon, paid for by us taxpayers. They weigh about eighteen tons, which tends to collapse small bridges, crack roads and even collapse the sewers and pipes buried beneath the roads—requiring repairs also paid for by taxpayers.
  3. We’ve forgotten how to communicate. Chanting slogans makes great video for the twenty-four-hour-news monster but does nothing to support a dialogue. By the same token, no one “exits their ve-HIC-le.” We get out of the car. We need to talk with one another, not at one another.

Life is hard enough as it is. Let’s not make it harder.

One response to “Regarding the Police

  1. Steve, I appreciate your balanced perspective “Regarding the Police.” When the police break the law, there is no law. BUT…until then, citizens must respect the authority of “the badge”–and all citizens must abide by the voice of our justice system.

    My good old, tough, Mexican dad told me something many years ago when I scored relatively low on the MCAT and someone else took the seat in medical school. He said something like: “We never question whether something is fair when it’s good and it happens to us. But when something bad happens, the first thing we say is, ‘Why me?’ Why do things always happen to me? This isn’t fair.”

    Mom and dad owned a grocery store in a rather impoverished neighborhood. One late afternoon a California Highway Patrolman pulled over a person who was speeding—for which a scuffle ensued. When my mom saw the guy over the CHP, she took her broom and started beating the guy with it…until other officers showed up. While our store didn’t do the same amount of business as before that incident, because of the number of police officers who stopped by to have coffee and donuts, we never got robbed again.

    I agree with you, Steve, about commonalities with respect to police and “civilian” citizens. To your list I add these “negative” commonalities:
    1) Lack of assumption of responsibility; 2) Lack of respect for authority (parents, siblings, teachers, clergy, business owners, courts, police, etc.);
    3) Inability to communicate (pro-social interaction in school, society, and the work-world, etc.); 4) Lack of ability to have trusting relationships (at home, school, work, friendships, and intimate relationships); and 5) A sense of gratitude for anything—even nothing.

    I suggest we watch for these elements in people—and perhaps in ourselves. I’d even go so far as to say for the potential or prospective “criminal,” the ordinary tasks of growing up and maturing are a series of perverse exercises, frustrating the person’s needs, stunting the capacity for empathy, and diminishing the ability to live in either the community of home, or the community of man.

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