Opinion Based On Conversation: Policing The United States.

I while back, I posted a Facebook status, expressing some thoughts on the state of policing here in the United States. I expressed that there are some key things needing to be addressed, in order to build a relationship between the public and the police force, and also to improve policing in the overall scheme of things.

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The sad thing about 2016 is that, in order to express an opinion, one must first give a long list of disclaimers to keep the ‘everyone is a winner’ collective happy. It’s so sad, in fact, I won’t be giving one. If you find yourself grown enough to be reading this, you’ll also be grown enough to deal with the fact that our opinions may differ. That’s all I have to say on that.

I while back, I posted a Facebook status, expressing some thoughts on the state of policing here in the United States. I expressed that there are some key things needing to be addressed, in order to build a relationship between the public and the police force, and also to improve policing in the overall scheme of things.
A Facebook friend stated it would be a good idea to hear what the officers themselves have to say, removing room for ignorance in opinion. I definitely had to agree with that and, so, for a few months now, I’ve taken time out to chat with police officers, as well as Joe public, to see what others have to say about the subject. Specifically, the officers have been from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Different areas of each state and all having a different opinion. The conversations I’ve had have been insightful and, once it was noted that I had no ulterior or dubious motive, most officers were happy to chat quite extensively on some very sensitive subjects. They’ll remain totally anonymous and I won’t be sharing any information that could possibly give their identity away.
Conversations with Joe public happened from day to day, mainly whilst Uber driving. I’ve conversed with individuals from many different backgrounds, cultures and races. For the most part, I addressed three key points that I feel greatly impact policing in the United States.

  1. Should the police force be armed?
  2. Should officers be trained to shoot to kill?
  3. Should officers be made to walk a ‘beat’, under mandatory probation, upon completing their respective academies?

Should the police force be armed?

There was an interesting divide when discussing this issue. The police officers generally believed they should be armed because of the danger that Joe public presented. Joe public also divided with their responses. I noticed that those from the middle class generally believed police officers should be armed. Those from the working class believed that police officers shouldn’t be armed. The middle class believed that it was necessary to have the police officers armed because of the nefarious armed underclass. Criminals. People that were a threat to what I deemed to be the system or the status quo. The working class saw an armed police force as the system imposing itself on their free will. Although, I did sense that there was somewhat of a division between males and females of the working class. Men generally felt that they were oppressed. Females felt that it was excessive to be armed but felt they should accept the fact an armed officer is of more use to them in times when they are victims themselves. There were many stories, sadly, where females had been victimized. There were several really sad stories told by females from areas such as North Philadelphia, Camden, NJ and even areas such as Mount Laurel, NJ.
I found the division really interesting in that, there seemed to be this structure in place that separated the system from those within the system, who, in turn, were separated among themselves. I felt that there was a clear divide and conquer dynamic at play, where everyone judged the other side through the looking-glass of the media. The misalignment of people, separated by aesthetics, was astounding. A distrusting eye, cast upon the other side. Whether the difference was by class, colour, religion, political belief. As an Uber driver, even I have found myself caught up at times, judging others based on stereotypical assumption.
The crazy thing is, when you ask questions about a person’s perception of the ‘other side’, very few can call on experience and only a handful of individuals, mostly students, would relay their responses based on something they had read or researched. Views of the other side nearly always were based on what a person was presented with by the mass media. News coverage, documentaries, Hollywood, music. But, when asked about their personal experience, silence. Sometimes awkward. But I really feel that it’s these awkward moments we all need, in order to come together socially and see that we are all pawns in the same game.
I remember a conversation I had with a policeman who had just left his studies and was waiting for placement. He had a middle-class, New Jersey background and was expected to be placed in Camden County. I asked him about being armed and he mentioned how dangerous Camden was. I agreed with him but pointed out that I’ve been to Camden many times and have never experienced issues. This wasn’t to negate his statement but I was interested to hear of his experiences, wondering if I hadn’t come across issues due to skin colour or because I’m not from the States. I was a little taken aback when he told me about what he had seen on the news, minus any experience but we were in good dialogue and it was only fair that his perspective was given as much airtime as mine.
The gentleman had expressed, as with the majority of the officers I spoke to, that he had wanted to become a police officer because he wanted to have a positive impact on society. He wanted to effect change. So I asked him how he felt that he could effect change in a society when he has no ability to relate to it. His response was to say that what he had seen in the media has to be accurate and that local intelligence is always provided. This brought us to the severity of being armed.
I explained to the gentleman that he was going to work in an area that can be extremely volatile, according to media sources, and he could possibly be put in a position where he decides whether or not another person sees tomorrow. Ending someone’s life, I said, is wrong in any instance. Doing it, based on potential hearsay, is a total injustice to human life. I went on to explain that, even animals are given understanding and a period of observation before being hunted. How much more we should value human life. We touched on beat policing at this point but I’ll address that point later on in this blog.
From an outside-looking-in perspective, the idea of an officer being armed is actually quite sad. I see the different demographics of American society as bricks of the same building. Based on the conversations I’ve had, I see the bricks separated by the mortar that is the mass media. The individual bricks are all the same but their perception of other bricks is always polarized by the mortar. A mortar that carries its own agenda. A constricting snake, if you will. But I guess that’s spin, isn’t it?
To close on this point, I see an armed police force as being a social issue and not one that can be addressed on its own. There needs to a be a social mind-change regarding gun ownership. I’d even go so far as to say that the attitude of entitlement some have needs to be done away with. An option to have a weapon doesn’t mean that you MUST have one. Herein really ends the discussion of whether the police force should be armed. The police force will remain armed until society deems it wrong, or against the norm, to possess a firearm legally.
Several weeks before the end of 2016 and there have been 1000+ deaths at the hands of the police force. the vast majority of which have been from shooting. That’s a scary and sobering thought. However, before we blame the 1000+ individuals killed by the police so far this year, we need to look at what we, as a society, can do to make sure we have a righteous foot to stand on when presenting our argument.

Should officers be trained to shoot to kill?

The responses to this question were a little more clearly divided but did raise a somewhat necessary two-part question. Who are we training as officers and what standard are we holding them to?
Joe public pretty much gave a resounding ‘No’ in response to the notion of being trained shoot to kill, with a few giving times when it could be necessary. For example, when there is danger to life and, to an extent, I can see their point. Having served in the military myself, I’m aware of the rules of engagement where necessary force should be used when there is endangerment to life. I get that. But what about when an unarmed man is killed by an officer who also has a baton, mace and a taser to hand? We then, I feel, need to start applying responsibility to the shoulders of the officer.
Several officers veered away from answering this question and some said they were trained to fire rounds to the largest body of mass but a vast majority of officers spoke of having fear for their own lives. This troubled me and still does.
In 1980, a small squad of soldiers from the UK’s SAS regiment stormed the Iranian embassy, in London to free hostages from terrorists. Within a few minutes. All but one of the terrorists were dead and all of the hostages were freed. One hostage was killed by one of the terrorists. The operation was considered a massive success.
So, who was trained? Men who wanted to be part of the UK Special Forces. Pushed and tested for months, to live a life of being pushed and tested. A key word, for me, here is ‘passion’. What standards are they held to? You only need to think of the uproar that would have been had there been mass loss of life to answer this question. The success of this operation would have been held to question had any one of the soldiers involved killed a hostage, for whatever reason, under whatever circumstance. The public is aware of the training they receive and aware of the job they are expected to carry out and so expectation of a polished job is always present.
Police officers work among us. They are always surrounded by Joe public, who they swore an oath to protect and serve. How does one operate in constant fear of a constant environment? There can only be lack of preparation, lack of (correct) information or an inadequate engagement with the environment in question.
This blog is NOT about race. However, the media has only promoted stories of a racial nature for me to choose from as examples known to a vast majority.
In the instances of Mike Brown, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, officers discharged multiple rounds, in close proximity, to ‘control’ a subject because they felt they were threatened. They were shot by officers who could have reached for alternative forms or control and, in the case of Alton Sterling, lethal force was used when there were TWO officers controlling one individual. I don’t care what anyone says, it only takes one shot to control any person. Mace is also very effective at controlling an individual. A baton, handled by a TRAINED individual is also effective as a first line of defense. Not to mention, some officers also carry tasers. Why is the gun the first thing reached for?
Most officers I spoke to said that they had never had to draw their weapon and the one gentleman that I spoke to who had drawn his weapon didn’t want to comment. However, he did say that, any human feeling their life was on the line would, if they had a firearm, use it. When I pointed out to him that having a standard like that, from the outside, could seem like the institution looking out for itself, he ended the conversation. Maybe understandably. I don’t know his personal situation.
A license to kill is a dangerous thing and I believe there are many instances where we have seen that officers are just under-trained to be able to have such a power. The officer involved in the shooting of Mike Brown fired a lot more than the 6 rounds that hit his target. What if there were innocent children in the line of fire? The officer who shot Philando Castille shot his target multiple times in the chest from a distance of around 3-4ft, while his target was in a small, confined space. Was one shot not enough? Was he aware of the child in the back? Could a taser not have worked? Why was his gun drawn in the first place? So many questions.
The officer who shot Alton Sterling epitomizes one of the biggest problems with the police force. Its separation from the society it operates within has caused some of its officers to believe that they are in a position of absolute power and that, along with adjudicating right and wrong, they as people, are to be obeyed. Being answerable to nobody and supported by the ‘blue wall’ of silence, there can be an air of invincibility experienced when around them. Alton Sterling was shouted at, held down by two men and shot multiple times in his chest from about 1ft away. Few, to zero, officers spoke out against the actions of the officers involved, even when their history of brutality was presented. Because these actions are not publicly vindicated, they are endorsed.
If it were to be assessed that being trained to shoot to kill was an acceptable standard, based on what is expected of Joe public, according to the media and local intelligence and understanding there is minimal interaction between the police and the public they work with, I feel the standard then becomes questionable. I’ll explain this as I move into my final question…

Should officers be made to walk a ‘beat’, under mandatory probation, upon completing their respective academies?

The police officers that I spoke to explained that they do go onto a probationary period once they finish their respective studies. However, the probationary period is solely to assess their ability to utilize what they have been taught.
My idea of a ‘beat’ is a period where you are assessed, not just on how well you execute your studies, but on how well you mingle with Joe public. This means, in the cities, you are not in a car but walking the streets, getting to know local shopkeepers, local residents, frequenters of the area. In suburban areas, I understand a car is necessary but, again, emphasis on blending in and building a rapport with those you swore to protect and serve.
EVERYONE I spoke to said that the idea was a good one. They just didn’t know how it could be implemented.
The pros to walking a beat are extensive. Primarily, the idea of a controlling institution is removed. Because of how interpersonal interaction works, there would have to be a genuine dislike between two people for police brutality to occur or for a police officer to come under any unprovoked conflict. Misunderstanding is minimized, if not removed, and this allows situations like we have seen on the news to be assessed with much more immediate clarity.
I gave one passenger an example of how walking a ‘beat’ improves police/public relationships. As it stands now, if I got into a physical altercation in Philadelphia, a policeman may think it best to immediately draw his weapon to control the situation. There are too many unknown quantities for him to contemplate. However, if any of the police officers that I have spoken to were to attend a physical altercation that I was involved in, before assessing the situation, they would assess me as a known quantity. We already would have take steps towards effective, as opposed to reactive, policing.
Improved relationships between Joe public and the police force would lead to a higher application rate. A higher application rate allows for higher standards to be set, and kept, during the application process and also means that keeping standards would be more highly scrutinized, causing consequence for those falling short.
Without doubt, teething problems would be immediate. Two warring entities in the same space would be similar to the beginning of a cease-fire. Both sides would need to extend understanding in order for the other to become comfortable. There would also be those that would cease to benefit from the division between the dynamic arm of the system and Joe public and, so, it becomes necessary at this point to address the media.
We are regularly bombarded with images and news articles of police killings and harmful actions carried out by both the police and Joe public. What about if that was turned around? After all, the brain learns by repetition and, in such a media-hungry society and time, repetition of images and situations where Joe public and the police force live and work together for the betterment of life would need to be mandatory. This would dispel the worries that many officers spoke of, regarding this, where they are seen as vulnerable all of a sudden and easy targets.

In conclusion…

I feel I could speak forever on this subject but I guess that is what is wrong with society in this age of social media and technological evolution and dependence. We assume that change comes from merely venting on social media or posting a meme in support of a cause. Very rarely do we actually see action. In fact, of all my Facebook friends, there is only one who I know backs his opinions with positive action. In fact, support of the police force is something he promotes and I tilt my hat to him.

Before closing out, I’d like to take a quick moment to point out that, without writing a dissertation, there is no way I can convey every conversation or even every thought. I do, however want to give a monumental thanks to everyone that has provided opinion, especially the officers. Policing is a subject of contention and it didn’t take many conversations to realize that police officers are people, just like us and it’s a shame that the minority, who abuse their position, create a stigma and cause an issue for the overwhelming majority who seem to have their act together.
I’d have liked to have continued talking to the officers round about. However, with the weather starting to turn somewhat chilly, I can see the quality of the conversations beginning to diminish and I’d like to give as fair an account of my findings as possible.

Heavily, I look at the mass media, playing a huge part in what I can only describe as a divided society. The necessity of the police being armed, the beliefs and opinions that each side has of the other. I see an entity that has made itself the puppet-master of one of the biggest shows on earth. Not only has it put itself in the position to direct the puppets but it has made itself the controller of their emotions and purpose. It has an agenda. It knows what it is doing and, as long as the puppets remain blinkered and as long as the puppets continue to throw stones at each other, the show will simply go on. I mean, imagine if everyone that had an opinion on policing, like I did, took some time to chat to a few? Just a few minutes every so often (OK, some of my conversations were lengthy. But you get the point! LOL!). Unafraid to face an opinion that wasn’t mine. Unafraid to be exchange thought. Unafraid to even be proven wrong. The latter being one of society’s biggest problems.
If the media put as much emphasis on togetherness as it does on division (Divide and conquer?), society would be a totally different place to exist. Placing police officers on a ‘beat’, after promotion of the benefits of a ‘beat’, by the media, would make the implementation of such a thing almost effortless, I feel. But the media seems to thrive on fear and drama. One only needs to listen to the basic pitch and tone of news readers, covering ‘drama-free’ topics. Even the narration of nature programs on channels such as National Geographic promote fear. Time, then, to point out that Love cannot operate where fear is given place.

I encourage everyone to take some time away from their screens to test their social opinions. My experience has shown me the massive impact it can have and it doesn’t hurt to speak with one another. In fact, this is the beginning of education and social cohesion. Imagine if great pioneers of life allowed their opinions to remain shaped by third person narrative. What would we know of the top of Mt. Everest? What would we know of the North and South Pole and the wildlife of the Galapagos?
The only way to live in harmony is to interact socially. The only way for relationships to succeed is via compromise. How does one compromise without interacting with Love?
Interestingly, the past and present give us clear demonstration of the outcome of assessing the other side through a third party and without using Love to test social opinion. War.

Author: Darren Robinson

I'm extremely opinionated and have lead somewhat of a colourful life, that I'd like to share with others. I believe that sharing our experiences and thoughts can help others no end, as we live this life of social media that has caused us to become islands, often suffering in silence, while we put on the front of the good life. I'm also an avid sportsman, track athlete and am headed towards a purpose of teaching the Word of God. Always something to say, always something to share, always eager to hear from others.

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