A New Vision of Community Policing: Don’t get Worried, Get Motivated!

In the past few years, America has undergone a very uncomfortable shift. Depending on your perspective we are either hurtling into anarchy, finally waking up from a social coma, or entering a utopia of unrestrained liberty. As I try my best to observe the various perspectives from the position of a dispassionate observer (Buddha suggested this position), I have come to notice a few positives from the seemingly divergent positions.

I believe we, collectively, are at the start of a great and wonderful opportunity in community development and policing. I believe we can truly create a new model of public safety and community involvement that is what people have envisioned and hoped for but never quite figured out how to achieve. Please allow me to explain.

Policing has become both a blessing and a curse to much of our communities. The citizens see often see policing in at least a marginally negative light. It is a necessary evil. In some communities, trust in the police in nonexistent. In others, they see the police as their protectors, but only in as much as the police don’t hold them accountable like they do the “people in those other communities”. Most people see police as a guard dog, at times vicious, or docile, but always with the uncertainty that it may bite the hand that feeds it. 

Law enforcement has become the utility infielder of society. But they have also been given the jobs of stadium custodian, concessioner, security, and management. Police officers have had more and more responsibilities heaped on them over the past few decades to the point where they are supposed to be, no expected to be, everything to everyone. But unlike baseball players, who are considered heroes if they bat .300, police officers are expected to be 100% successful or competent in everything they must do. This has set law enforcement up for failures and has highlighted the utter ridiculousness of society’s expectations. We are now in a spot where society looks at policing as though it has failed the community, when in fact both groups have failed each other. We are now in a place where I think ears are open and people may listen to some new ideas; I have some.

Law enforcement needs to just listen for a minute. Stop defending a position that nobody wants defended. Stop throwing facts and statistics at the public. They can be thrown right back. We are in a time where we must listen to feelings, perceptions. As much as it has been drilled into LE over the past 20 years, data driven policing has no place here, now. Let the public rant. Let them rail against policing. Some of their frustration has been dearly earned. Remember the 100% success rate?

Part of that is our fault. We told the public we could handle everything they asked of us. We told them, with just a few hours of training, we could be as capable as psychiatrists in handling MH crises. We told them with just a few more pieces of equipment, we could handle any tactical situation like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. We lied to them.

This is a perfect time to take some of our food off the plate. We filled up too much at the buffet. We thought if we kept saying yes, the public would be happy with us. If we kept saying we can be better by doing more, the public would like us. The opposite happened. We were trying to spin too many plates, and now they are crashing down around us. We can now tell the public we aren’t good plate spinners, but we can be great public safety and law enforcement officials. We can remove some of the non-enforcement/protection responsibilities and give them back to the appropriate people. Police are law enforcement professional, not mental health professionals. Not counseling professionals.

Rather than look at this time as one of people telling law enforcement we are not succeeding according to their desires, and seeing it as a negative, we can see this as a chance to acknowledge, agree, and give back some of the “extras” that police don’t like, don’t want, or simply can’t, do well. There is no shame is saying “no mas”. Over the past 27 years involved in policing, I have heard countless officers complain about the extra work heaped on them. I have heard many complaints of the additional training, that is less than minimal and is usually done to “check a box”, so the community thinks they are knowledgeable and capable.

The biggest misperception is that with a few hours of training police will be a competent to handle mental health crises as a doctor of psychiatry. This is beyond ridiculous, but we sold an ignorant public on this in the interest of “providing better service”. In trying to appear responsive to a part of the community, we have become less responsive and less able to the entire community. We now have a great opportunity to shirk that yoke and lighten the load.

The community wants an overhaul. They say they want to defund, disband, and abolish police. In the initial “brainstorming” session this appears to be a solid idea, because they are just spit balling ideas, throwing them on the wall to see what sticks. I say let them spit ball. Let them throw the most outrageous ideas possible. This way they can come to their won realization that getting rid of police or law enforcement, as an entity or as a function, is perhaps unreasonable, to understate it. I say, give them even crazier ideas.

Tell the public how we would like them to be an integral part of the public safety process. We would like to have their input on policing and public safety measures on a daily basis. We want them to be a fully invested partner in the entire process. Here is where we can remove some of the burden and get back to the role of policing; to create, foster, and grow relationships through law enforcement activity. We can now give back the role of psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, parent, back to the appropriate people. We can develop a more comprehensive approach to community public safety. We will include all the members of the community, through representation, to provide a service that is more inclusive, and has more investment from the entire group, not just a portion of it.

We always talk about how we feel dismissed and discounted in many decisions made by the community toward policing. The additional tasks, training, and responsibilities handed down without officer input or consideration. The public feels the same way. This is a landmark moment to reduce our load, increase public investment, accountability, and reconnect as a whole group; with the result being an increase in trust and cooperation.

Some in policing see this as a negative moment. They see this as ignorant people-cop haters-finally getting their wish to get rid of police, thereby opening the door to anarchy and lawlessness. That is one way to look at it. That is comfortable for people who see the general public as uniformed and somewhat simple. It is a position that shows a contempt for the very people one has sworn to protect with their life, if necessary. I do not know how an officer who sees the public as dimwitted or even idiotic, can be willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for them. I view the public as our charges; to be protected and cared for. We are the stewards of our communities and are honored to be in such a position.

This is a fantastic moment. We can either think like above, or we can see this as a transitional time to move where most police officers want to be. A move to a place where the police is police, not counselors, community parents, or even walking encyclopedias. This is a chance for police to renew or even freshly establish a new level of trust within their communities. I see this as extremely positive and growth oriented. I ask all in law enforcement to stop for a moment, suspend the data dissemination, and just listen in order to hear. We can come out of this, lighter of load, stronger of mission, and more solid of purpose.

Train smart, stay safe, be better