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We Can Reform Policing Without Undermining Police

Op/Ed By George Payne –


imagesDTHQTTSI (1)I have family members who are in law enforcement. The persons I know who are in these positions are there to serve and protect. They did not sign up to use excessive force, corrupt justice, or actively seek to harm people of particular groups.

Be that as it may, there is no question that significant problems exist in our communities around the role of policing.

According to a 2018 study by the Washington Post, 381 citizens have been shot by police this year.

That number will no doubt increase by tomorrow morning.

All together, 987 people were shot by police in 2017.

Social theorist and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in his book, Between the World and Me: “You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task, and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies, the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects are the product of democratic will.”

On the other side of the spectrum, a recent Fox News article has reported: “Since the start of 2018, at least 33 law enforcement officers across the U.S. have died while on duty — with 21 of the deaths caused by gunfire… Roughly 135 cops died in 2016, making it the deadliest year for police officers in at least five years. While there were fewer deaths in 2017, the numbers weren’t much better: A total of 129 officers died last year. And 46 of those deaths were caused by gunfire.”

As these statistics clearly show, far too many people are being killed by police officers in the line of duty and far too many police officers are getting shot and killed trying to do their job. None of this should reflect the democratic will.

As I see it, body cameras are helpful, but they need to be turned on, focused on the conflict at hand, and used in investigatory reviews.

De-escalation training, diversity training, and nonviolent communication are vital skills for all police to have in their toolbox, but there must be well-funded budgets that make this information available to all departments.

Neighborhood policing on bikes, better engagement in the community in general, and recruiting more officers who represent the neighborhoods they patrol are all necessary steps towards positive reform.

As someone who is personally invested in the health and well being of police officers- not as symbols, but as fathers, husbands, sisters and brothers- I want police organizations to create new policies that will make their jobs not only more effective but less violent.

It is precisely because I have family members in law enforcement that I do not want to see these problems continue the way they have for so long.

But, undermining police officers across the board is irrational. In countless ways, the police are essential safe keepers of order in our society.

What society has thrived without some form of policing?

In America today, the police are often the most highly trained, emotionally sensitive, and professionally invested first responders available. The list of their heroics- in every disaster, from hurricanes to armed robberies- would fill volumes reaching up to the moon and back.

Does anyone who is seriously using their brain want to eschew policing all together?

George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer, domestic violence counselor, and adjunct professor of philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College. He lives and works in Rochester, NY.

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