“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” —Aldous Huxley
Public perception of the police is constantly challenged. Being a police officer has never been a tougher profession. The Bureau of Justice Statistics is replete with data on police officer divorce, alcoholism and other social problems. Being a cop today is not like being a cop 20 years ago. There were no online news outlets, the 24-hour news cycle or bloggers. And the manner in which news, events or stories are reported impact public perception in a very big way.
Another aspect of today’s police work are citizens with cameras. Nearly all phones today are equipped with video cameras. It is easy to catch bad behavior of the police and post it up on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
“The (perceived) cop problem” is all around us. Its on Facebook, the Newspapers, blogs and online memes. Organizations like CopBlock, Cop Watch and a plethora of other self-professed watchdog groups can be found in social media peddling extreme videos.
News reporting is more competitive than ever in this era. Local small-town papers and tabloids can now have fingers that reach across the nation via social media, further shaping perception. When does a cop doing his job in proper fashion ever make the headlines? It is clear to see negativity overshadows what good police do.
The bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that one in five people will police contact in their life. While that covers a lot of circumstances for police contact between citizens, it gives us pause to think about what that means if we assume ten per cent of all cops are bad.
I had my own police contact with Manchester Police back on September 21 at 4:00 AM in the morning when a couple of officers were called because a dude in a black hoodie was running around my house yelling and raising hell, ringing my door bell. Rolling out of my bed, failing to answer my questions reasonably, I greeted him with a .45 and he stood still in my driveway until officers arrived. The officers were decent, didn’t mistreat me or question my right to have a firearm. Upon their arrival I secured my firearm. It turned out to be a drunk guy so polluted he didn’t know left from right. The officers treated me with respect and were friendly to me. It is how I would expect them to behave. I can only guess how that might have turned out otherwise, had I gotten a responding officer who has issues. Thus it would be fair to say my own perception of the police is guarded.
In the wake of Ferguson and NYC, we see a media advocating for vigilante-style justice against the police, juxtaposed against an endless stream of Facebook videos of police officers shooting peoples pets, busting down doors with SWAT teams, only to later find out the address was incorrect. One of the most riveting events is the story of a baby seriously injured by a stun grenade being thrown into his crib where he slept. As he grows up with the scars from that event, how do you think it will shape his perception of law enforcement? Those incidents don’t strike me a corrupt or oppressive, but as grossly negligent and callous, coupled with the apathy and lack of concern on the part of officials that follows.
Radley Balko,author of, Rise of the Warrior Cop, wrote in the ABA Journal,
Today in America SWAT teams violently smash into private homes more than 100 times per day. The vast majority of these raids are to enforce laws against consensual crimes. In many cities, police departments have given up the traditional blue uniforms for “battle dress uniforms” modeled after soldier attire.
Balko points out that many of these raids with this sort of force was once reserved as the last option to defuse dangerous encounters, but are now on the increase and used as a ?rst option to apprehend people who aren’t dangerous at all. We’ve all seen it on facebook. A guy who violates a lawn watering ban is greeted by a heavy-handed police intervention. Reasonable people agree that is excessive.
Balko asserts in the same article that Police departments across the country now sport armored personnel carriers designed for use on a battlefield. Some have helicopters, tanks and Humvees. They carry military-grade weapons. Most of this equipment comes from the military itself. Many SWAT teams today are trained by current and former personnel from special forces units like the Navy SEALs or Army Rangers.
The problem with the police and the general public is a mixed and complicated one, although, there are a few aspects that are crystal clear. First, there are those who just plain old hate cops…No matter what good or bad they do, they are there, at the ready to tear them down, scrutinize them with unrealistic standards and point fingers of wrong-doing at police. They have always been with us and will continue to be in our midst. Inversely, there are those who laud police no matter what the circumstance is. The police can do no wrong. They make excuses for them even in the face of wrong doing. During the Manchester Police case of Sergeant Stephen Coco, the cop defenders were right out front to accuse anybody who commented in the Union Leader as, “Just using this as an excuse to bash cops.” Then there are the “sheeple” who will hate all cops on that day then worship at their feet on another. The rest of us sit quietly by and ask the tough questions, trying to find some perspective.
We cannot overlook the temperamental suitability of our police officers who serve our communities. In May of 2013 National Review Writer Kevin D. Williamson’s book, The End is near and It’s going to be Awesome. tells us in his book that it can be hard to tell the good guys from the bad guy, providing this little snippet:
For more than twenty years, NYPD detectives worked as enforcers and assassins for the Gambino crime family;In 2006 two detectives were convicted not only of murder and conspiracy to commit murder but also on charges related to such traditional mob activity as labor racketeering, running illegal gambling rings, extortion, narcotics trafficking, obstruction of justice, and the like. This was hardly an isolated incident; only a few years prior to the NYPD convictions more than 70 LAPD officers associated with the city’s anti-gang unit were found to have been deeply involved in gang-affiliated criminal enterprises connected to the Bloods street gang. Their crimes ranged from the familiar police transgressions of falsifying evidence, obstructing justice, and selling drugs seized in arrests to such traditional outlaw fare as bank robbery — they were cops and robbers.
This, speaking about the New York City Police Department. But Kevin doesn’t just pick on them. He provides this snippet about LAPD:
More than 100 criminal convictions were overturned because of evidence planted or falsified by officers of the LAPD. One scholarly account of the scandal concluded that such activity is not atypical but rather systemic — and largely immune to attempts at reform: “The current institution of law enforcement in America does appear to reproduce itself according [to] counter-legal norms . . . attempts to counteract this reproduction via the training one receives in police academies, the imposition of citizen review boards, departments of Internal Affairs, etc. do not appear to mitigate against this structural continuity between law enforcement and crime.”
Then there is our newly formed Department of Homeland Security:
The Department of Homeland Security has existed for only a few years but it already has been partly transformed into an organized-crime syndicate. According to a federal report, in 2011 alone more than 300 DHS employees and contractors were charged with crimes ranging from smuggling drugs and child pornography to selling sensitive intelligence to drug cartels. That’s not a few bad apples — that’s an arrest every weekday and many weekends. Given the usual low ratio of arrests to crimes committed, it is probable that DHS employees are responsible for not hundreds but thousands of crimes. And these are not minor infractions: Agents in the department’s immigration division were caught selling forged immigrant documents, and DHS vehicles have been used to transport hundreds (and possibly thousands) of pounds of illegal drugs. A “standover” crew — that is, a criminal enterprise that specializes in robbing other criminals — was found being run by a DHS agent in Arizona, who was apprehended while hijacking a truckload of cocaine.
Amidst all the agitprop of, “Hands up, Don’t shoot” and, “I can’t breath” campaign…Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the plethora of other Charlatans injecting civil unrest, reasonable citizens are concerned and for good cause. The Militarization of police departments, the temperament of community cops spiraling downward, the non-stop posting and din of cops behaving badly make it more difficult for citizens to get a clear perception of reality of the lens with which they view the police who serve them. And yet, people are being unreasonable when they have some degree of guarded apprehension about police when being stopped for something as innocuous as a faulty tail light. The general public is still not completely mistrustful of the police, but they are watching in a guarded and careful fashion. The rest is up the Police administrators to ensure they can maintain or gain back the public trust.