I consider myself to be a law-abiding citizen. (Speeding doesn't count, does it?) I taught my boys to be respectful to the police and when they were little, we had talks about how the police are here to help you. For the most part, I still believe that.
And I have friends who are in law enforcement. I've written stories about my local police department, and have been impressed by the dedication and professionalism of our suburban cops. They're dads and coaches and our neighbors. Nice guys.
It seems to me that they observe- and have to deal with- our worst moments, individually and collectively. What must it be like to see humanity stripped of the social safeguards? How do you assimilate that? What kind of perspective does that bring, and how does it affect someone who deals with it daily?
When I read about a cop making a mistake in the heat of the moment when no one really knows what's going on, I've tended to give law enforcement the immediate benefit of the doubt. Difficult circumstances, instantaneous decision-making, hindsight is 20-20...et cetera. Hey, if someone pulled a gun on me I doubt my first thought would be that they wanted to go grab a beer and watch a game, right?
But my sense of who should get the benefit of the doubt has become muddied. There are too many stories about too many police officers who shot first and thought later. Or lied about events. Or acted in a manner too easily perceived as racist.
Just in the last two days, I've read several stories about police intimidation and misconduct and the use of unwarranted force...and that's not even counting the story of Trayvon Martin.
I don't know what the solution is to this seemingly growing problem of good cops who make bad decisions. Are we not training them enough? Are we cheaping out our police budgets to the point we are overworking a smaller and smaller force? Are we not screening applicants carefully enough? What's the problem here?
Let's fix it.
Perhaps we need to take a long, hard look at how we police ourselves. What are we asking from the various law enforcement communities? What is our goal, and how do we achieve that with the best possible outcome for all? Do we need a national dialogue on police standards and training? Whatever it takes, I'm in.
I want for my children to be able to tell their children that police officers are here to help us. That they are the good guys, and that they should never be afraid of them. I think we all want that, probably most especially the police themselves.
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