Police Authority: A Middle Ground

Police Shooting Missouri

Watching the occurrences in Ferguson has me upset at the world in general. I don’t even know where to begin as there are so many problem factors involved. The innate prejudice that causes police to automatically profile minorities? The knee-jerk reactions from officers who like to shoot first and then never ask questions? Perhaps it’s the steady militarization of our police, who supposedly need camouflage, high-powered firearms, and anti-terrorist tactics to so much as serve a warrant? Or it could be the flagrant violations of the Constitution, wherein media is restricted and protesters are attacked for enacting their rights?

At some point someone has to say enough is enough and step in. These same jack-booted behavior was supposed to have been shut down during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s. It took the federal government to step in and force these locales to fall in line. Perhaps it’s time for some unified regulations on all law enforcement agencies, from the smallest city to statewide? Body cameras, independent ethical review boards, full consequences for offenders, etc. might teach those who are supposed to “serve and protect” that maybe they should stick to those two duties.

Before this seems like I’m jumping on the “Fuck the Police!” bandwagon, let me say I have the utmost respect for most LEOs. I always wanted to be one and failed primarily because I was too old and fat by the time I tried. I worked hand-in-hand with many fine officers, from my days bouncing bar to my short stint as a dispatcher. Today I regularly talk to my local police department as I’m head of our neighborhood watch, and I count several as friends (and even have them on speed dial). In fact, my area police department is almost the opposite from the previous complaint, which brings me to my other point. Although police should be restricted from abuse of authority, they should not be restricted from using it.

Where I live there is almost a fear among law enforcement and the correctional system of going after anyone, especially a minority. Oh, they’re very good at the “blatant” crimes and will often catch burglars, robbers, murderers, etc., but when it comes to less visible crimes they almost seem apprehensive to make an accusation (let alone an arrest). Drug dealing? Destruction of property? Violations of noise ordinance? Loitering? You can call it in, but until you cause a serious enough stink up the ladder (like a Lieutenant or Captain), the beat cops actively avoid doing their job: law enforcement. They’ll either look in the wrong area, show up and leave, or simply ask the person to keep it down. All of this is done with such lack of subtlety and investigation, they completely ignore when the perpetrators scatter upon seeing the police and then return after they leave.

Worse, this is often compounded when there is a trouble location or residence. Our police have to build cases, often over months or years, before they’ll make a move on one of these hot spots. It doesn’t matter how often a neighborhood complains about a house, no matter how many calls about loud parties, arrests of occupants, or even search warrants turning up illegal substances or paraphernalia. This place could be a rental subject to housing assistance regulations, and they still won’t evict the tenants until they’re sure. It’s like they’re so scared of the ACLU or Al Sharpton crying “race!”, they won’t make a move. Sadly, this means neighborhoods degrade as those charged with serving and protecting us are so afraid of accusations of racism or classism, they won’t even do their job.

Is there a middle ground? Can law enforcement work in such a way that they are restricted from abusing their powers but still able to enforce the law? I’m cautiously optimistic with reviews of other police departments that find a way. The use of personal cameras during enforcement seems one of the best examples. Officers are less likely to behave unethically or unprofessionally, because they know they’re being recorded. In addition, any poor behavior on behalf of the citizen is caught on camera for everyone to see. Why don’t we have legislation requiring all police departments to use this technology? Even if they can’t afford it (despite the ever-decreasing cost these days), that’s what tax dollars are supposed to be spent on.

In the end, let’s just hope that incidents like Ferguson encourage common-sense laws and regulation, while critical thinking and planning prevents us from falling too far the other way.