When President Obama gave the last speech of his Presidency, he chose to do so in Greece. As he praised the Greeks for being the founders of democracy 25 centuries ago, he reminded us all of something very important. He said the most important title in the world is not President, or Prime Minister…it is “Citizen”.
For some time I have been writing about the problem of the “us against them” fraternal mindset of the majority of those in law enforcement. I know of this deep-seeded unhealthy culture in policing because I experienced it first hand during my time in law enforcement as a deputy sheriff. As a nation, the overwhelming majority of us as concerned citizens are collectively witnessing that reality in our respective communities on an all too commonly frequent basis.
For but one very relevant example, I want to point to the very dishonest and commonly embraced law enforcement ‘group think’ and police mantra that celebrated Donald Trump as the “law enforcement candidate” in the last Presidential election.
Despite the mindblowing degree of lying and dishonesty we routinely see and hear from Trump…Despite the shocking connections he is known to have with organized crime in both America and Russia…
Despite the bewildering amount of evidence now slowly being uncovered in the Russia investigation, that has already revealed many attempts on his part to cover up his campaign’s contacts with Russian foreign nationals, this common mantra of the vast majority of police in America today that Trump is the ‘law enforcement candidate’ remains steadfast.
This is inexcusable, and furthermore it is one of the most effective examples I can use to shine a spotlight of truth on the problem in policing today that has gone unchecked for too long. Let me put it in very simple terms…If one is in policing for the right reasons, then one has the opposite mindset…You would have the ethical values and character of someone like Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller – someone who I can guarantee you is not of the mindset that Donald Trump represents either those values, or is by any stretch of the imagination, the ‘law enforcement candidate’.
As I have written about not long ago, I was on a ride along with a local agency in the Sacramento area not long before the last Presidential election. The purpose of the ride along was a pre-employment interest. The deputy I was riding with was aware of this. Suddenly, I was taken by surprise when he began quizzing me about my politics. He asked me point blank WHO I was planning on voting for in the Presidential election.
This was of course completely unprofessional and improper. This individual proceeded to make sure that I understood his view that reflected the commonly held views of others on the agency, that Donald Trump was the ‘law enforcement candidate’.
I simply responded that while I wish we had better choices for President than we had to choose from, that I certainly could not support Trump precisely BECAUSE of my law enforcement values. I encouraged the deputy I was assigned to ride with to go and do a Google search on “Donald Trump and Organized Crime” in order to get a full picture of his deep connections to the mob in New Jersey and New York in the building of his casino empire.
Within a matter of a few minutes of sharing this answer to his question, I was dropped back off at my car in the department parking lot and told to have a nice evening.
I share this story because it is emblematic of something at the root of the problem we face in policing today. That problem is that those who have the RIGHT values and ethical mindset, who try to serve in law enforcement, are more often being ostracized and rejected…They are seen as ‘undesirable’ by the vast majority on the job who would routinely champion for the clearly corrupt and unethical, often even racist leaning values of someone like Trump.
It is time for a radical change and overall re-boot to the culture of policing in America today, in the interest of our nation’s constitutional guarantee of equal justice for all citizens. That change and that overall re-boot will require active and total CITIZEN CONTROL of police agencies.
As such, this will result in the re-training of police to understand that they are not “sworn officers” verses “unsworn civilians”. This point is so important…It is critical to understand that this is where things went wrong in the police mindset a long time ago.
The practice of telling new law enforcement recruits that they are now elevated to a sworn “officer” title as opposed to continuing just as a “citizen” with law enforcement job responsibilities, has resulted long ago in this ‘us against them’ mentality that is so ubiquitous and widespread in law enforcement.
Police must be re-trained, and this “officer vs civilian” mindset must be deconstructed and re-defined at a minimum. New training from a new citizen controlled agency model must fundamentally reinforce the proper mindset that Sir Robert Peel was known for originating…
Sir Robert Peel, founder of the British Conservative Party who served twice as Prime Minister for the United Kingdom in the early to mid 1800’s, is considered the “father of modern policing”. Peel is widely credited with the proper philosophy that the citizens ARE the police first and foremost, with those chosen to do the work of policing are actually subordinate to the citizenry, not elevated to a title that sees the citizens as ‘civilians’ compared to themselves as ‘officers’, and as such, ‘non-civilians’.
The new model must teach officers that there is no distinction…that working in law enforcement, they did not move into a status of ‘non-civilian’. The mindset of police that they are somehow not a civilian is actually coming from a MILITARY mindset completely. And we know that our nation’s constitution specifically mandates that the police are NOT the military, and as such they are properly categorized as ‘civilians’ hired to serve as peace keepers for their fellow civilians. The constitution specifically prohibits the military from operating in a law enforcement role except under ‘martial law’.
But this proper mindset was compromised a long time ago when those in law enforcement began to try to brand themselves as APART FROM the citizenry, and began appropriating a title to refer to themselves like the military, that delineated them as ‘NON-CIVILIANS’, etc. That should never have been allowed to happen.
More so than just the current ‘city council’ model, this new ‘citizen controlled’ model needed in policing will require that a citizen commission be hands on full time, running the police agency and dictating policy and procedures for the agency. If any “Sheriff” or “Police Chief” title is to continue, that individual will understand they are subordinate to that citizen commission as their ‘at will’ employer, the same as every other subordinate member of said police agency.
This new citizen controlled law enforcement model will require members of the commission or their designated representatives (preferably representatives chosen who have mental health and advanced social skills training) to routinely ride along on a daily basis with those on patrol, monitoring behavior, making sure all body cameras and dash cameras are in operation, etc, and reporting back to the citizen commission regularly – Especially on any areas of concern they observe that may violate the police employees’ mandate as an ambassador for the civilians who employ them and who they are tasked to serve equally.
This new citizen controlled law enforcement model will also require that a more concerted effort be made to find law enforcement recruits who are FROM economically challenged neighborhoods that are disproportionately affected by higher crime rates.(Communities commonly referred to in law enforcement circles as “the hood” or other more derogatory slang terminology)
Such crime challenged, often largely minority populated neighborhoods need to have law enforcement patrolling their communities with more of a balanced number of those who CAME FROM those communities. This will go a long way toward helping other law enforcement members with their ‘implicit biases’, a term that has been recently coined and tossed about as a euphemism for ‘latent’ if not conscious prejudice or fear.
The mistake that is often continuing to be made is that communities are electing Sheriffs’ or appointing Police Chiefs’ based primarily on their extensive law enforcement ‘veteran’ experience. It is so easy for such individuals to say all the right things that a city council or local electorate wants to hear about a belief in ‘community policing’, etc. But what we routinely see is that despite such ‘politically correct rhetoric’ for the most part nothing changes in the culture of policing with this ‘veteran experience’ emphasis.
This is because there is an endemic, intensely protected ‘power mentality’ ever present in the current culture of policing, which we see too often abused in law enforcement. This power mentality – this self-admitted ‘para-military’ mindset that ‘we are sworn NON-civilians’ patrolling ‘un-sworn civilians’ is an unhealthy wrong mentality that veterans dogmatically see as against their personal interests to change.
It will require a forcible change from largely ‘non veteran’ civilian public servants with a passion for healthy law enforcement, who understand this problem, and who are appointed to such department leadership positions as Sheriff and Police Chief. And as I said above, such department leaders under the new citizen controlled model of policing will serve entirely at the pleasure of that citizen body, with that citizen commission being the employer and authority for the agency.
I’d like to close with one other important point…It is all to common for effective views like these that I am sharing to be scoffed at and mocked by those currently in law enforcement as ‘weak minded’, etc. But nothing could be further from the truth, and such a common attack toward such a ‘citizen prioritized’, true community policing approach is only helping to make my point for me.
When I was on the job, I was always ready and willing to be tough when I had to be, but I was equally sensitive, fair and kind to ALL citizens I served FIRST and FOREMOST.
Please note that I included the word ‘sensitive’ specifically. Kindness and sensitivity are what we all need, especially from those who are given the responsibility of patrolling our communities and enforcing the law. The current model of policing that champions Donald Trump’s personality as being the “law enforcement candidate” does not equate sensitivity and kindness first and foremost as a fundamental quality they are looking to recruit, and actually often denigrates that quality as a liability, when in fact such a character quality is what most citizens would want first and foremost in any police member they would ever find themselves having to deal with.
I hate to compare the police to ‘parents’, although the job does often include a lot of baby sitting, especially in dealing with irresponsible juveniles in the absence of their parents, so please indulge me with this example for just a moment…You are not a ‘weak parent’, but you are the right kind of parent in teaching and bringing up your kids when you are sensitive and kindhearted first and foremost, but ready and willing to be tough with your kids if you have to be, in order to teach them proper boundaries within which to live a safe, healthy and productive life.
When I was on the job, there were of course occasions where I had to use reasonable force to control and/or arrest individuals where it was immediately recognized as necessary to do so. But my overall strength and effectiveness as a law enforcement officer came as a direct result of my not looking at the citizenry I served as ‘civilians’ with myself being a ‘non’ civilian…
But on the contrary, my overall greatest strength on the job came by my recognizing that I was entrusted to the job as the citizens’ ambassador, and accordingly by my treating others the same as I wanted to be treated by them, with equal respect and sensitivity to their needs and emotions in any given situation.
That is not ‘weakness’…On the contrary, it is strength and it is integral to the job of policing, but something that is sadly not seen as desirable by many in the current policing culture today.
Change is coming, and I believe strongly that the days are numbered for that unhealthy mindset to be allowed to continue in law enforcement, as it has remained unchecked for too long in our communities up to now.
President Obama was largely echoing Dr. Martin Luther King when he pointed out in his last speech as President that the most important title in the world is that of ‘CITIZEN’.
And it is that growing recognition by the citizenry, fueled by the disgraceful corruption we are seeing from Donald Trump, and aided by much of law enforcement’s bewildering embracing of him as the “law enforcement candidate”, that will ultimately bring about this long overdue ethical change to the current unhealthy police culture.
(Connie Bryan is a writer in Sacramento, CA…Check out all of her material on her website and blog at www.conniebryan.com)