How To Improve Relations Between Police and Citizens

Unless you avoid the news at all costs, you’re fully aware of the shootings by police, killing two black citizens, Alton Sterling and Philano Castile, both under highly questionable circumstances.

Alton Sterling (Left), and Philando Castile (right)
Alton Sterling (Left), and Philando Castile (right)

Then Army reservist/Afghan war veteran Micah Xavier Johnson, so enraged by such shootings, murdered several police officers in Dallas in retaliation.

There can be no doubt, that tensions between the governed and the government are at levels that are bordering the animosity that triggered us to war for independence against Great Britain 240 years ago. But how did we get here, and how do we get out?

Facts versus Headlines

It’s fair to say that the media push narratives that get ratings. But while according to the FBI in 2014, most black and white people are killed by people of their own race—89% for the black community, and 82% for the white, they often push a narrative that a young black man is more likely to be killed by a white cop.

There were a total of 444 police shootings deemed justifiable homicide, by police in 2014. Pointing out those deemed justifiable homicide is important to the story, because the concern is that police aren’t prosecuted for such shootings. So for police not to be prosecuted, it means the shooting was deemed justifiable.

The FBI didn’t break them down by race, but even if they were all white cops shooting black victims, which they certainly aren’t, that’s still four times less than the 2,205 black-on-black murders in the same year, or the 2,488 white-on-white murders.fbi-logo-404553[1]

Let’s be clear about that statistic, though. It has little to do with living in violent communities, a narrative that is often asserted. The first clue is that white-on-white murders are very similar.

It actually has to do with people being four times as likely to be killed by someone they simply knew.

See this table from the FBI, also in 2014, which shows that 43% of the time people were killed by an acquaintance or family, compared to 11.5% by strangers. The rest are unknown, but since the dataset is somewhat large, we should reasonably assume that nearly 4:1 ratio would be true for the unknowns as well.

The Attitude Adjustment

We need to change the way we interact with each other.

The police were hired to protect our rights. If one pulls you over or otherwise interacts with you, remember that this person is potentially willing to die for you—treat them accordingly. A little compassion for police who do such a dangerous job would go a long way to improve the exchange you have with that officer.

Credit: inhauscreative Vetta Getty Images
Credit: inhauscreative Vetta Getty Images

But as always, it takes two to tango.

Police are trained to fear the worst and prepare for it in each interaction they have with the public. The most innocent traffic stop could be their last.

But preparing for the worst doesn’t excuse assuming the worst, nor treating them as if they’re the worst. If police want people to respect them, they must first show citizens the same respect they expect from them. If an officer didn’t specifically witness a citizen harming someone, they are innocent until proven guilty—it’s an officer’s duty to act accordingly.

Blame Legislators Versus The Police Where Appropriate

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat (libertarians already generally know this), when you try to socially engineer society by passing victimless crimes, you cause police to have to enforce those crimes—requiring more police.

This puts both police and citizens in harm’s way; increasing the odds of violent interactions between the two parties.SundayAlcohol[1]

Drugs, prostitution, blue laws, and other such victimless legislation which protect no one—yet risk many, are a huge part of the problem.

If you support passing a law, then you must be comfortable with the notion of putting a gun to the offender’s head and killing them yourself if they violate it. If you’re uncomfortable with this thought, then it’s pure hypocrisy to put police in the situation where they may have to do so in your name.

For instance, if your neighbor were smoking marijuana, would you walk next door, put a gun to their head and tell them to stop or you’ll kill them? Of course not. But if that same neighbor were raping a child, I suspect you’d feel quite differently. This is bad legislation versus good in a nutshell.

If we want to reduce senseless violence, we must first elect someone looking to undo all the senseless laws we’ve passed which trigger senseless violence. Then be sure they don’t pass new ones going forward.

Respect the Constitutiongun-and-the-constitution[1]

I’m in a state where concealed carry requires a permit. So this means I open carry when walking my dog at night, because I haven’t taken the course and applied for that license. I carry in case I get accosted by a miscreant. In so doing, I often worry I might get accosted by the police.

The current scenario is that if a busy-body citizen calls police to report me walking down the street carrying a gun, the police must investigate. They do this because we’ve allowed a litigious culture where police can be held liable for not investigating.

What should happen however is that the police should respond to the caller with, “Carrying a gun is every American’s right. Does he/she appear to be committing a crime? If not, there’s nothing for us to investigate.”

This may seem wrong at first, but the police would do this if you reported someone just driving a car down the street. Driving a car and carrying a gun are both perfectly legal actions that have an intrinsic danger if done so irresponsibly or maliciously. So while at first it may seem like a horrid analogy, they are almost exactly the same.

The reason it feels wrong is simple conditioning by anti-gun people who deem gun carriers as a threat, despite the fact everyone is a threat in some way, and gun carriers aren’t any more likely to harm someone. Most are responsible citizens exercising their 2nd amendment rights just as all of us exercise our 1st.

We then need to pass serious tort reform to preventing civil action against police who don’t investigate someone carrying a gun, on the off chance that person actually harms someone.

Better Community Outreach via Police Training

This proposal is a bit novel and controversial, and I admit it may have unintended consequences. But I like blue skies thinking, so I’ll propose it anyway just to get some creative juices flowing.

Much like we have food stamps to help the needy eat, I think police could use confiscated weapons that are normally destroyed, and start a program with impoverished citizens in bad neighborhoods to protect themselves by donating these weapons and giving classes on how to use them properly.

Of course those citizens would be screened properly for criminal backgrounds like they would for a gun purchase. And yes, it is possible one of those guns may be used in a crime later. But it’s also highly possible that those guns may save many lives of people too poor to buy one themselves, yet absolutely may need one as a result of living in a high crime area.oc_zps62e1c21e[1]

If every good citizen were armed, and prepared to defend themselves against a would-be criminal, we’d have a lot less would-be criminals.

Criminal prey on the weak, but it’s hard to call anyone packing heat, weak. Guns are the greatest equalizer mankind has every invented, turning a feeble grandmother into a Chuck Norris level threat.

Police Need To Eschew The Brotherhood Mentality

Being a Corvette owner, we tend to recognize each other—so much so, that nearly all of us wave at another Corvette owner driving past. Motorcyclists do this too. If you were from Boston, visiting California, and overhear the person next to you say he just “Pahked the Cah,” you’ll almost certainly strike up a conversation with him.

This is because people are hard-wired to bond with those they share commonalities with—it strengthens societal bonds. The easiest way to do this, is to bond over a unique common interest or trait. I say “unique,” because if you were both in Boston, you’d pay the same person no attention whatsoever.

Police know that their work is dangerous, so they form strong bonds among one another so they can be confident they’d have the other’s back, even if they don’t personally know each other—it’s a very natural phenomenon.

But they should be taught that this is a natural emotion, and that they should avoid following it blindly. Much like the placebo effect, while it’s natural, it can do far more harm than good if all skepticism is eschewed.

Violent Crime Rate comparison between general population UCR data and law enforcement population NPMSRP data. Click image for the full article
Violent Crime Rate comparison between general population UCR data and law enforcement population NPMSRP data.
Click image for the full article

This data shows that police are just as likely to commit criminal acts as the general public.

At first, you might think this seems odd, but the police are regular people, not superheroes.

We often hear stories of good Samaritans doing wonderful things. So being a good person isn’t unique to police, nor is being a criminal unique to the general public either.

The reason I say they need to eschew the brotherhood mentality is that police often defend other police who have clearly done unconscionable things.

While at first, a police officer might think defending their “brothers” is the honorable thing to do, but it’s absolutely not in their best interests.

When an officer commits a crime, they violate their sworn oath to uphold the law of the land, dishonoring their noble profession. But it also creates animosity with the public who feel as though police can operate above the law without repercussion.

This hatred and distrust often leads enraged citizens to act violently towards the police, because they feel it the only way justice will be served—putting good cops needlessly at risk, as evidenced by the aforementioned Micah Johnson.

Instead, if an officer is arrested or put on probation for a potential felonious act, police should distance themselves from that person entirely, and make it clear that if the person is found guilty, that person is no “brother” of mine.

They should also be quick to report any criminal acts among their ranks, and clean their own house unmercifully. They will never get the trust and respect of disenfranchised citizens otherwise.

And let’s be honest, if you are a police officer, are you really OK with one of your own committing a murder or unprovoked assault?

Drew Peterson should serve as a shining example of the harm that can come from this blind loyalty. His fellow officers failed to properly address allegations of abuse against Drew when his then wife Stacy Peterson reported him a multitude of times for serious domestic abuse.

Stacy Peterson
Stacy Peterson

It is almost certain that had his fellow officers taken Stacy’s complaints seriously, and treated Drew like any other violently abusive husband—investigating Drew in earnest, Stacy could very well be alive today, with Drew safely in jail where he belonged.

By all means, police should have each other’s backs, but never at the expense of what is right. A criminal is a criminal, whether they wear a badge or a wife-beater, they should be treated with the same prosecutorial mindset.

I could write an entirely separate post on the tactics police unions use to protect police in ways that harm the general public, and destroy the public’s trust in them. They should merely assign the accused a lawyer, and refrain from professing the person’s innocence or any other public statements until that officer is cleared of any wrongdoing.

But once convicted, their sentences should be as harsh as what would be applied to the general public (in my opinion harsher, since they swore to uphold those laws). The slap on the wrist sentence for an offense that would land us regular citizens in jail is surely one of the largest factors in eroding the relationship between the governed and the government.

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