The Contract between police and the community

In response to people being tased, pepper sprayed, even shot by police, I see a common quip that, “they should have just done what the officer said.” Even in events where people did nothing to precipitate the police action, people feel citizens should always “just follow orders.”

On the surface, this seems simple enough. But taken in the context of the very foundational principles of this country, “just follow orders” doesn’t hold up.

This country was founded on the rights of individuals over their capitulation to the powers that be. In the case of the founders, it was to avoid monarchal rule and subjugation of the people to an aristocracy, oligarchy, or authoritarian regime. Today, it is to prevent our government for wielding power untempered by the will or desire of the people.

Law enforcement was devised to operate on behalf of the people, by the peoples’ allowance. This is a contract situation. The people allow themselves to be policed only as long as they consider the policing to be just. Once the people consider it to be outside the accepted parameters, that contract is considered to be broken and no longer valid.

We in policing can argue, rant, and scream to the heavens that the people are spoiled and don’t want accountability. This may be true, but what about the police? Have we maintained a high level of accountability and unblemished or at least exemplary character?

We can also argue that most police officers are doing a great job, and it is just a few bad apples. If this is true, why don’t we take the same approach with the public?

Why do we allow police officers to shoot unarmed, nonthreatening people, or even force a family to lie prone on hot asphalt, for our safety because “a few bad apples” have assaulted or killed police officers in the past?

Why do we expect the public to view each police officer with fresh eyes when we don’t do the same to the public?

We may want to look where policing has violated or at least stretched the contract. I hear officers say that people must be responsible for their own actions. I hear officers say some minority groups should “police” themselves and stop violence within before blaming police for use of force against their community.

Maybe we should take our own advice. Perhaps we should look within to solve the problem of the few bad apples in law enforcement. We need to police ourselves first. Condemn illegal police behavior. Hold accountable police officers who violate policy, laws, and ethics. Repair our end of the contract.

I am not saying police officers, or this profession, is bankrupt or evil. Far from it. I am saying we are human beings just like everyone else in society. We are no more infallible or perfect than any other human. But we seem to have a self-opinion that collectively we are not making any mistakes in the relationship. We are perfect, it is our partner who is the problem.

It is time to remember that we are in a contractual relationship with our communities. We provide a service. We uphold the law, we are not “the law”. We serve a role in society, and if society feels we are not serving that role effectively they, as partners in this can decide they wish to go a “different direction”.

Let’s review the contract, see where we may be straying from our commitment, and get back to where it benefits all parties.