Keeping The Peace in a Free Society Let Us Not Forget Why We Do What We Do

America’s greatest attribute is freedom. People have fought and died defending freedom. I am not just speaking of those that serve or have served in the military. I am also speaking of those fellow citizens standing up for individual rights, laid out in the United States Constitution. In policing a free society it is important that police never lose sight of and stay committed to Democratic values. That while we defend the homelands people from crime and disorder, we at the same time must uphold that which is dearest to us, the United States Constitution and what it attributes to freedom. If we are to alter public expectations favorably towards police we must never lose sight of why we police. We must never lose sight that our allegiance is to our country, communities and citizens first, and then our departments and brother and sister police officers. It’s not the other way around. It never has been! Nor should it be!

When we became police officers we swore an allegiance to country, community and citizenry. We swore and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and to the State in which we serve. We cannot and must not ever lose sight of this. This is what makes policing in America so beautiful and at the same time so ugly. The balancing act between creating harmony and sowing discord while policing is so fragile and yet so powerful it is what draws most police to this vocation and to protect and serve. It is quite a responsibility police have.

The police officer on the street has the power to grant or take freedom away. He can do this not just because he is a police officer. He can do this because in America a free society the police officer follows democratic values which include laws and his discretion which allow him to make decisions for the populace. If we follow these democratic values to the best of our ability we gain legitimacy in the eyes of the public. If the public feels otherwise they lose trust and what happens when people feel that a relationship is unjust, when they feel like they can’t turn to the police? Feelings of hatred, resentment, revengefulness develop. Community mistrust equals higher levels of crimes, disorder, violent crime and lower cooperation with police.

Herman Goldstein says, many police officials and much of the public fail to understand the responsibilities of the police in providing equal law enforcement, in assuring due process, in protecting the rights of minorities, in protecting the privacy of the individual, and in protecting the right of political descent. Most bothersome is the fact that talk about supporting democratic values in the context of police operations has come to be equated, by many police and by some elements of the public, with a soft and permissive attitude towards criminals and toward unruly elements in our society. This situation is exacerbated when the loudest critics of the police, who vociferously defend constitutional rights, fail to acknowledge the complexity of the police task and seem totally unaware of the problems the police must handle on the streets, often under extremely difficult circumstances.

Bridging the current police/people gap is not about taking sides and attacking one another. This type of behavior will just deepen the divide. Instead to bridge this gap we need compassion and understanding by all, because the complexity of policing demands we all dig deeper in our efforts to understand.The complexities of evolving societies demands we dig deeper and continually learn about one another and what we believe we need to survive on our own terms.  Police understanding of the people they police and the peoples understanding of those they expect to fairly and impartially and justly police a free society.

Stay oriented!

Fred