This past Sunday a friend of mine at church asked me how I felt about police public relations. He’s an active duty police officer and knew that I’d retired from the Department many years ago after he’d read some of my blog articles. He challenged me to consider how to improve police public relations.
Here’ a chance to improve the public’s perceived image of police officers as our society evolves from days gone by, Norman Rockwell’s vision of a young boy in awe of the town hero, to a more threatening consideration, SWAT teams kicking down a door at the wrong address or police officers shooting the family dog that’s inside a fenced yard.
A feeling exists among many citizens that there’s an ‘Us versus Them’ mentality that pits police officers against their neighbors; to a certain extent that might be true. Does it have to be this way?
There was a political cartoon by Tom Blanton of the Project for the New American Revolution (pnar.org), which caught my attention. He created a cover of an old children’s magazine, Highlife; except instead of a non-threatening milk toast subject like the magazine normally included within their pages he picked up on the trend, real or not, that police officers are the enemy rather than your neighbor who happens to wear a uniform. I remember reading Highlife magazines while waiting to see the dentist or doctor; something to kill time before being tortured, nice magazine. I wonder; does Highlife approve of Blanton’s sense of sarcasm or does it even matter?
Some police officers have the natural ability to come off as pricks, sorry, that’s just about the only way to call it. There’s actually a term associated with such cops, ‘badge happy’. Come to think of it there are several terms to cover obnoxious cops who've forgotten they are only there to protect and serve; but some of these monikers are inappropriate in mixed company.
Most of us can relate to cops who set up radar traps where speed limits are ridiculously low or arbitrarily placed. Are the tickets written protecting the public from dangerous drivers or simply filling the officer’s ‘quota’ for the day? Take that a step further, does the officer’s driving habits match with the expectations he/she has of the public’s driving habits? Probably not; so why issue tickets for violations which only tend to annoy the public?
Somewhere along the line police officers need to turn the public’s opinion back in the direction which puts them in a positive light.
Arrogance of office, being a power hungry prick, call it what you will; but when a police officer takes command of the conversation as if his/her opinion is the only opinion…well, let’s just say the public is ‘up to here’ with that attitude.
Police officers are paid to protect and serve, not dominate and demean.
Police officers are human beings, not robotic camera ticket systems hired to increase the revenue arm of government. That might actually be enlightening to some police departments as they struggle to make ends meet.
When I was a street cop, and I’m not making this up, our un-written quota was 2 per shift; two moving violations on the work card kept supervisors off your back.
I had a supervisor pull me aside one time and explain the reason I wasn’t getting a new patrol vehicle assigned to me was because I wasn’t being as ‘productive’ as officers who had less seniority. If only I’d had a tape recording of that conversation…; it’s against the law to enforce a traffic ticket quota; at least it is here in Texas.
As far as SWAT teams kicking in doors, officers shooting the family dog or accidentally blowing up a child when a flash grenade goes off too close to the crib…what can I say? There is a trend, for lack of a better term, especially among larger police departments to become more militarized.
The choice of uniform color, choice of foot wear and a host of other seemingly minor appearance related decisions puts a subliminal message out there for the public.
Here in Houston we used to have light blue uniform shirts that matched the paint on our patrol vehicles. There is a change in the wind, a move toward black uniform shirts and black and white patrol vehicles. A study was done that determined this change; police officers appear more powerful in black uniform shirts. The light blue shirts didn’t command the proper authority from the public. (not making this up either)
If you want to improve police public relations then go back to a less threatening uniform, remind officers that they are part of the community they serve and protect rather than the idea that police officers rule over their subjects; it’s that simple.
Some folks are concerned that police departments will eventually be instructed to begin disarming the public, confiscating firearms from individuals as each ‘crisis’ dictates further restrictions on individual rights to own and bear arms.
What will your local police officers do when such a directive comes down the pike?
Hopefully, and I say this with a knowledge that Most police officers really do understand the Bill of Rights and how it applies to Everyone; hopefully our police officers will recognize the need to stand up for what is right and refuse to follow such a directive. While their Departments may cow tow to the State or Federal government, individual police officers have to live with themselves and what they do for a living.
We live in strange days, the kind that makes freedom loving individuals long for the past. Watching the hand writing on the wall lends credence to the public’s fear of police in general.
Painting police officers as ‘the enemy’ is just as bad as badge happy cops running rough shod over a public that deserves better; neither path leads to improved relations.
This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal , a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.