During his 1984 campaign for President, Ronald Reagan reportedly made the following statement:
The most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”
That snarky little comment quickly became a running joke. T-shirt vendors, politicians, comedians, and others made hay with it until this very day.
While the comment was made for campaign purposes, there is truth in it. Politicians and bureaucrats seem to have a carpenter mentality. You know, the old saw about seeing every problem as a nail. Sadly, politicians apparently cannot tell the difference between a claw hammer and a sledgehammer. So, they break out the sledgehammer and destroy the thing they are attempting to fix. Take the latest example of the feds coming to our rescue.
April 21, 2021, the current United States Attorney General announced an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. He promised to take action if the investigation found systemic problems within the training, policies, and procedures of MPD. He closed his remarks with this final statement, “Building trust between the community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”
His comments made it clear he believes, as do many others in the current administration, there is a problem with law enforcement. Regrettably, the new Attorney General and the rest of Washington seem to have forgotten one significant point. Either that or they choose to ignore the fact they or their predecessors played major roles in creating the conditions which led to the conflict we are witnessing today!
For the record, I am not saying Law enforcement, in the U. S. or anywhere else, was ever perfect. How could it be? Police officers, agents, deputies, investigators, or whatever a particular member of law enforcement is labeled, are human. Humans are flawed. Whether we are flawed by divine design or have not yet evolved to perfection we are flawed! So, everything we do, try or touch is flawed as well. This is true whether the human involved is the newest rookie in Punkin Junction PD or the occupant of the oval office.
Getting back to the Honorable Merrick Garland, 86th U. S. Attorney General, here is my problem with the ball he started rolling. Starting with the Minneapolis Department, he and Washington intend to carry out the so-called “reimagining of policing.” The truth is policing has been reimagined more than once over the past century or so, and every reimagining eventually led to the next reimagining.
In the early years of the last century, the federal government, with the help of some in academe, decided basic changes were needed to address the way law enforcement operated. It seems the police were too much a part of the community. I mean, after all, how objective and professional could one be walking the same beat in the same neighborhood all the time. Hell, you’d get to know everybody, and they’d get to know you.
All that fraternization could lead to subjective law enforcement, cops looking the other way when certain people did something, and in some cases, cops taking money to cover for or assist in malfeasance. Accordingly, the nation’s leaders decided a more professional police force was needed.
Professionalizing police departments led to putting more cops in cars. That way they could patrol larger areas, and they would not be as likely to fraternize with the locals. Of course, the cars were just one step. Other steps included rotating shifts and moving officers around regularly. That minimized the opportunity for bonding even more. Making cops more “professional” led to alienation and mistrust, which led eventually to another reimagining, community policing.
Suddenly, these standoffish, official-looking men and women were again supposed to establish rapport with the people they policed. Officers were encouraged to move into minority or problem neighborhoods to establish trust and understanding. Cops reached out via rap sessions and youth activities attempting to change the perception of law enforcement.
Of course, the Vietnam war and the hippy movement threw a monkey wrench into all of that rapport building. Still, the police did their best to become more understanding, educated, and “professional.” The results were less than satisfying.
There were demonstrations, riots, and property damage. Name-calling and threats were common. Tensions rose, to new levels of conflict. Between anti-Vietnam protestors, stoners, and the and groups that were forerunners to the groups on the streets today, chaos reigned. Police officers, like today, were not trusted. They were threatened, assaulted, and killed for simply doing their jobs. This led to some of the worst years yet seen in the history of law enforcement mortality. The worst was 1973. That year, more police officers were murdered while doing their jobs than any other year in modern times.
The situation became so bad, even the politicians realized something needed to be done. Getting out the sledgehammer, they funded and promoted changes in training, changes in equipment, and changes in the law. At the same time, police officers realized they were not being protected by their departments. Police unions began to grow and become political influencers. By the mid-1990s, the foundations had been laid for the problems faced today.
In a little more than two generations, law enforcement went from the neighborhood beat officer everyone knew to a tactical officer working the streets and equipped for battle.
The same parts of government now calling for the dramatic changes in policing helped develop, promote and pay for the training and equipment of modern-day law enforcement. The result of those changes makes police officers appear, and feel in some cases, more threatening than helpful.
Of course, AG Garland and his boss will fix that problem in the next 100 days or so. After all, as noted above, “change cannot wait.”
© oneoldcop – 2021
An excellent compiled and written post. Law enforcement has always been a festering problem in the US and it goes back hundreds of years. While the police need to change their attitude, policies and actions, the general public are not entirely innocent. Many Americans (I lived in California for 7 years) find it difficult to accept any kind of authority, and I think this attitude goes right back to Revolution times. Even though I was born in England, I do understand the anger and frustrations the colonialist felt back then. Revolting against authority, and those exercising the power, have been very common ever since. I do not think there is a simple answer. Best of luck.