24-hour news networks are essentially dead. They had their time before the new millennium’s teenage years. You all remember them, “This just in!” cue same image and film package for the next 3 hours while unconfirmed updates and speculation roll in. They certainly weren’t perfect; though today we’re relegated to their evolutionary progeny which is political commentary and opinion networks. For better or worse, these networks are the primary vectors of our current event knowledge. So when anchor X is fired up about policing tactics techniques and procedures, they get to present the sides and information they deem relevant and are green-lighted to omit anything else.
The recent discussion has turned to this charge that our nation’s police officers aren’t engaging in community policing. That the LEOs are no longer seeing the people they serve as one of, “us,” but instead as one of, “them.” My intent isn’t to weigh in (though I have very clear opinions) regarding any moral righteousness of any side or to point at any of the high profile anecdotes the news has brought us and draw some sort of conclusion, but instead to reflect on the only thing that really matters in the end, the results.
The clamor has brought the expansion of the body camera, which provided funds can be sourced and they are used in good faith and appropriately, sound like a decent idea. Undoubtedly, they are unnecessary most of the time but if they clear up confusion for the rest, then great. Coat-tailing body cameras which are a tangible and concrete step to help assuage ill-will and mistrust is this rhetorical hammer that is wielded against the law enforcement community at large, the lack of community policing. What that means exactly, isn’t really well defined by our news handlers but the assumption I make is the optimistic one in which they want officers to be speaking regularly to people who live in the neighborhoods they patrol and attending community functions like tee-ball games etc. I’ve also heard some chatter that the police aught to live in the neighborhoods in which they work.
Now, community engagement, getting out of the car and asking people how their day is going, if everyone is safe, things like that, sound like reasonable and good suggestions. I assume police officers do this every single day. Perhaps, they should do it more so that people who in the past have felt that their only interactions with officers are negative, begin to have a better appreciation for the humanity of the officers on their streets. But the part of the conversation that turned to the idea that cops must live in the neighborhoods they police is short sighted and to be frank, dangerous.
The what-if game is fraught with pitfalls, logical fallacies, and circuitous arguments but it is hard not to imagine how it plays out for Officer Smith who despite her best efforts and growing rapport with her community, has to enforce the law even when it is unpopular. H.R. 218 allows for peace officers to carry concealed firearms in any state or jurisdiction (limited exceptions) for several reasons but one of them is that they are engaged with criminal elements regularly and retribution is a very real danger. It is hard to ask someone to live in the neighborhood in which you had to arrest someone’s family member and then to sleep soundly at night. Or to not lose your hair over concern that your children are okay out front while they wait for the school bus when you know there are people who are angry with you.
Should officers be engaged? YES. Should they be personable? YES. Should they be sparing and absolutely respectful in regards to the power we vest in them? ABSOLUTELY. But should we expect them to live with the societal consequences of the laws we as citizens enact and charge them with enforcing? Is that part of their compensation package? Maybe some would argue yes.. The argument unfortunately hasn’t evolved to that point. It hasn’t been directed to its logical conclusion. We should move beyond finger pointing and grass-roots saber rattling and start talking brass tacks and a thin blue line.