Reconstructing of Policing in the USA
I wish to offer these ideas focusing on what I will call “reconstructing policing in the USA.” “Reconstruction implies first the “deconstructing” of these hierarchies; this is related to interpretations of defunding police, but I prefer to think in terms of how “we” as citizens, get more value from those we pay who are supposed to “serve and protect.” Admittedly, I have no background in law enforcement: I am a 75 year old, white, retired electrical engineer, who helped raise six Black god-children to productive adulthood. Over my adult life I have had some personal interactions with police, and today observe the almost daily abuse of Black men and women by police. It is clear this will continue until we totally rethink policing, its role in society, and what kind of society we want to live in. Obviously this is about much more than policing, but we can begin to make some serious changes on this sub-set of society if we commit to doing so. If we want to continue to live as we are now and basically have been over the last 100 years, then no change is necessary. Contrarily, if we seek a justice system that is truly fair to all citizens, a radical analysis and rebuilding of the “tools” needed to mitigate and deal with crime and violence is absolutely necessary.
As I mentioned, I have some personal experience with police, in the context of racism. Once my Black wife and I were stopped after leaving a club late at night, and as it turned out the white cop stopped us because he profiled her, in his mind, as a hooker. Another time I called the police myself to report a suspicious person on our block. His parting response — white man to white man — was “aren’t you afraid living here around all these Blacks and Mexicans”? And then, when my Black children were growing up, I witnessed several racist incidents inflicted upon them. Today I see a Black man, woman or child killed by cops seemingly every week. I am not going to about whether cops kill more Whites or Blacks: but the facts are that Black people are killed at a greatly disproportionate rate, and often under circumstances where the outcomes could have been different. Black people live in fear of cops, especially the white cops: this must change.
Here are my ideas, and some no doubt have been offered by others, but I am convinced these must be given a hard look if we really want change. How these can be accomplished will depend largely on having a national dialogue, and by local governments developing game plans that can be implemented over time. I am convinced, based on my personal history as an engineer who has been involved with many “value engineering” activities, that we can raise the value of those who are to serve and protect, by totally rethinking/reinventing their function in society:
· First I go back to the old axiom, “clothes make the man (or woman).” Let’s get rid of police uniforms! I contend that wearing a uniform changes a person’s personality in ways that bring out their aggressiveness and sense of being “authorities.” This type of persona, I also contend, can quickly lead to negative interactions with many people. Personally, even though I was an officer myself in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, I would much rather speak to a policeman who is in civilian dress mode as opposed to the usual uniform (blues or black military) styles. Uniforms throw up a psychological wall, and for many, literally raise the hair on the backs of their necks. There is such a long history of police brutality — which is directly associated with uniformed police — it seems obvious to me that the dress mode needs to be addressed. I recommend all police wear civilian clothing (and do away with cop caps)of their own choice that meets certain standards. Since their identity as “police” is still vital, this could be achieved through some name tags and color-coded arm bands. Of course police would typically still “be packing”: I do not advocate police not continue to be equipped with stun guns and pistols; however, they need better training on using those as true “last resorts.”
· The very word “POLICE” needs to be abandoned. We need a new noun; perhaps something like “peace keepers.” Again, the word “police” immediately has connotations: it is one of the most highly loaded words in the English language, and immediately splits those who see police as protectors and saviors, from those who see police as oppressors and brutalizers (and worse).
· We need to deconstruct police fraternal orders and variations of that: these organizations have a long and deep history, especially in large cities, and it is these groups that perpetuate the psyche that permeates these forces, and advocates for rules and regulations that safeguards their members from being fairly treated under the law for alleged misdeeds. (I encourage readers to delve into the history of policing in America: it was always to protect the “haves” from the “have nots,” and was styled on the frame of militarism.)
· Police ranks also need to be “redone”: why not just use civil service pay grades, and then some new “ranking” that is not based on military nomenclature? Since all should also be in civilian clothes, these “ranks” could be designated in some inconspicuous way, such as color coding using color bands they would wear on their arms or such.
· I would advocate for “cop cars” to be plain vehicles when used in communities; on the freeways and such, however, standard cars offer greater visibility that is needed.
· I would require all new recruits to live within the city limits of the city they work in, for the first 3 years after they go on duty.
· We do need community “policing”, but we need to rethink it. I would advocate having a paid community member ride with at least one-half of the patrol units. And, we need to build on programs already in use of police walking beats, engaging with youth at recreation centers and other community interaction.
· We also need to stop any active recruiting of ex-military personnel. Military trained persons will think like military, and bring that “baggage” to the job, and good policing does not need that kind of thinking. (Remember I am an ex-military officer.)
· All new applicants need to undergo psychological assessment, including attitudes about racism and gender.
· There needs to be standardized training, probably done by some new National agency that is not under the Justice Department, on handling situations and on deescalating situations. Too often we see police resort to direct confrontation and the use of force, often deadly, in situations that I submit could have been handled differently.
· There must be a de-coupling of the “police” from the local district attorney offices: this is a big step, but can be achieved if we actually follow through with reconstructing the “police.”
· One thing that must be given immediate attention is the reduction of military equipment and the budget to maintain such a high level of military systems in municipalities. The sight of military style vehicles serves only to escalate tensions. I am not advocating for doing away with “SWAT” teams, however, as I feel these are needed. But the level of equipment they use needs close scrutiny and needs to be in conformance with community needs and expectations.
· The budget for policing must be rearranged and reallocated to include social worker units that would work with and respond to many situations. We send EMS directly into conflict situations, and many arrive before police; we need social workers trained in situations who also can respond, and these should have on-scene control of “police” response until otherwise determined.
· The new “police” need to really be selected and trained to “serve and protect” ALL.