Sunday, December 29, 2019

Decide What You Want

*Photo credit Mercury News*


It's time to decide what we want from law enforcement.

Warriors?
Counselors?
Guardians?
Priests?
Social workers?
Magicians?

Do we want the cheapest cops possible?
Or, do we want well trained and well screened cops?
Well equipped cops, with every tool needed for every possible eventuality?
Or the beat cop from grandaddy's hometown, with nothing but a smile, a wheelgun, and one set of cuffs?

Really, we want it all.
Admit it, we do- and we want it all, without paying for any of it.

Every officer needs to be an empathetic, well-spoken, SEAL-trained ninja, with double majors in psychology and social work, who considers the job a calling, and has no bills to pay, no nerves to fray, and enforces the law completely objectively while also using discretion at all times, unless it's going to result in arresting--or not arresting--the wrong person at the wrong time, for the wrong thing, in the opinion of every member of the public.

If that person existed, he wouldn't work for you.
So we've got to deal with what exists, and what exists are humans.

Humans are fallible, and their bodies are frail. Their brains play tricks on them when they're under stress, and then keep them from sleeping by replaying the stressor on an endless loop later, trying to find ways to 'fix' whatever went wrong.

Humans come in varieties, not exactly like dog breeds, but close enough that the analogy works:
If you need a bite dog, you don't start with a Golden Retriever.
Possibly, you can teach the Golden to bite on command, if you're persistent enough, and mean enough,but in the process, you'll ruin everything that made him a Golden to begin with.
*Photo Franklin County Sheriff's Office*

Now translate that back to people.
Warriors, soldiers, great war generals like Patton, may live for the fight but they don't always play well with others after the battle.
They can be harsh.
They can use bad language in settings where you wish they were polite.
They find humor in ugly, dark places that just frighten the rest of society.
They're not always...nice.

If you want only a cuddly, soft, empathetic officer whose first response is always a soft answer and compassion, you can have that.
She'll never embarrass her chief at Coffee with a Cop.
He'll present well on camera, every time, and remind you of someone's grandfather.
He'll be the perfect SRO, until there's an active shooter at your kid's school.

Suddenly, society insists on the warrior.
They want the crack-driven demon Malinois, 55 pounds of rawhide, springsteel and gator teeth, driving into the gunfire and doing anything it takes -- anything -- to keep the children safe.
And once the threat is gone, society wants the Malinois to morph back into the therapy dog.
They want the warrior gone, the counselor returned, the off-switch thrown.

That's not how it works.
And it's not fair.

I tell you now: the unicorn doesn't exist.
You can't have it.
What you can have is a human.
If you recruit well, background thoroughly, and train constantly, you can have a human with a kind heart, and good ethics, who is willing to fight hard, be uncomfortable, even get hurt, for you.
You can have a human who tries. You can have someone who struggles, who sometimes fails, who gets better with time and experience, and who has setbacks.
You can't have perfection.
In fact, you can break perfectly good humans by insisting they be something they can't be-- things no one can be.

Decide now that, as long as cops get recruited from the human race, they're going to be exactly human, with everything that means.
The rest of society is also human, after all.
Maybe it's time we decide what we want from the rest of us, too.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Why 'War'?


'War' is a loaded word.
It carries baggage, history and emotion.
It evokes pictures and memories, from personal experience, or news articles,or art, or history.





A 'war on police' has been angrily, tearfully debated for at least five years now.

Writers who embrace the term choose it deliberately, and cite high profile conflicts, and line of duty death statistics to support it.
Video clips of activists carrying vulgar pickets, marching and calling out for the killing of cops, and quotes from political speeches defending them, filter through their articles and circulate on social media.

The writers who reject it cite their own statistics, full of rising survival rates over decades (without mention of influences like the invention of Kevlar), and anecdotes of police misconduct to support their position. Those writers vilify the term 'war' as hyperbolic and divisive:
How, they ask, can an officer who regards his community as the enemy--or even a potential enemy--truly act in their best interest?

Commentators and activists who reject the phrase 'war on police' most forcefully cite an 'us v. them' mindset, and the imagery of officers as soldiers, as opposed to 'peace officers' and 'public servants'. Words like 'oppressor' are offset against concepts of protectors of their communities, and fellow citizens.


Dozens of the officers who have been shot, stabbed, beaten or run over in the recent past--some who recovered, some who died, and some who will battle pain and disability for the rest of their years--were military veterans.
'War' is a literal thing to them.
An entire generation serves in uniform now, who do not remember a time before we were at war abroad.

I think they have chosen the term 'war' for what they face in the streets at home because it does separate them, and set them apart. I have heard from vets, now law enforcement officers, who've said they feel more anxious here, now, than they did overseas.
There, they knew who their enemy was. They knew what they could expect. They knew their families faced no threat from that enemy. They knew when their deployment was over, they would fly home, and leave that enemy behind.

Now wearing a badge, they re-deploy every night, try their best to switch gears every morning to come home, and often find the streets have followed them home, to threaten their families as well.

Many officers fallen to gunfire are military veterans. They survived sandbox deployments to fall at the hands of fellow citizens in the streets.

If it's war, then those are enemies-- foreign, exotic, impossible to explain, separate.
If it's not war, then officers will have to admit to themselves and the ones they love that it's their neighbors who wish them gone, wish them harm, wish them dead.
I think it's more than they can manage, to accept that, to try to explain that to their children or their parents.

I don't like the phrase 'war on police'. Loaded language makes people stop reading, stop listening , unless they already agree with you, and that's part of the problem.
So, I don't use it much.
But I can understand those who do.