I recently tweeted:
“Watching Flint Town and I cannot help but think of respect. Respect towards the citizens that law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve. Then respect of citizens toward law enforcement. But respect is not automatic, it has to be earned by both sides.”
Growing up in today’s age, it is not hard to see civility between public organizations and the private citizens they serve is at or close to an all-time low. The citizens, especially people of color, are rightfully concerned about if their actions will get them killed. The police are rightfully concerned about when going out on patrol if this will be their last patrol. Citizens and police get into heated verbal clashes. There are neighborhoods out there that when the police show up, the first words out of the citizenries’ mouths is “Fuck the police,”.
There is a systemic problem in how citizens and law enforcement act towards each other, while the first amendment protects free speech like saying “fuck the police,” it will not earn you accolades or respect when dealing with law enforcement. When it appears that people with white pigmentation get treated more fairly by law enforcement, it easy to see why people of different pigmentation act apprehensively when police are around. The culture between law enforcement and citizenry needs to change. I don’t know all the answers and won’t pretend to but here are some ideas.
The first simple one fairly simple, the amount of training the average US police department receives is 13-16 weeks of “basic” training then the rookie gets partnered with a veteran cop for an average of 21 weeks. Overall, a cop receives less than 1 year of training. This varies by department (local town, city, state). I believe the US police departments need to borrow from a few western European countries which require lengthy training times of the police and offer them specialized training in how to deal with all citizens. I personally believe all police should receive a degree in psychology so they can understand how people react.
Riding off the coattails of the first idea, I think the number of police departments needs to be drastically trimmed, remove small town and county police departments. I grew up around Fort Calhoun, Nebraska (about 800 people at the time). We did not have a local police department, county sheriff department provided the town’s needs. Where I live now, there is a nearby town about the size of Fort Calhoun, which has 3 full-time officers and 2 part-time officers, on top of county sheriff and state troopers.
My adolescent years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city and largest law enforcement department (bigger than the State Patrol also). Omaha covers most of Douglas County, which still maintains a sheriff’s department that covers what the OPD does not. The state trooper’s still assist. Either way, there is still 3 police departments which operate in Omaha.
I would suggest a consolidation of departments, closer to the Canadian model where the RCMP is “leased” out by a lot of the provinces to act as the law enforcement – but large cities maintain their own police departments which assist the RCMP in that area. In America, this would be the State Patrol / Troopers as the “primary” police force and large cities maintaining their own police departments. The state and city police would have to maintain equally rigorous training regimen and standards, including how to deal with mental health issues.
In fiction, the police in my universe of Within the Grasp of Ordinary are a completely federalized service. There are no local or regional police forces, everybody is part of the same organization which is obviously broken down into sub-sections etc. This crafted world is far more ideal, the ordinary law enforcement officer does not carry a gun, rather is well trained in non-lethal means in how to perform crowd control and take down a suspect. The guns are left to a specially trained sub-section, basically SWAT.
The civilian side of the imagined universe is a lot more respectful towards police, everybody is treated equally but there are instances where the system may be abused – (not spoiling that, must read the book to find out).
One of the core problems America faces right now, which I think is glossed over in most science fiction environments, is the lack of respect between law enforcement officers and the civilian population they are sworn to protect and serve. There needs to be a bigger discussion about reforming the system, one which will not be changed overnight but through gradual change into how policing is performed. I look forward to a time when all people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, their skin pigmentation, and all other differences, are treated equally before the law and our encounters with the police. No matter our differences, we are all human and deserve to be treated as such.