A Poorly Chosen Phrase

Defund the police. Taken literally in the context of American law enforcement that is totally insane.  To deny a problem with frontline policing in America, especially as it relates to the non-whites, is equally insane.  With both those thoughts in mind, let’s explore.

I think being a frontline law enforcement officer (a/k/a cop) is one of the most difficult and underappreciated jobs in America. These men and women are expected to rush toward intimidating situations the rest of us flee from or avoid if we possibly can – usually then calling the police.  To complicate things in many jurisdictions the frontline officers are underpaid but that is another matter for another day.

One of the other major problems is that we ask the frontline people to do too many things, many of which they are neither adequately trained for nor have the skills to do or at least do well. That is an easier problem to address.

I am very pro-police for a liberal. I like to think of myself as a practical progressive.  In full disclosure I have benefited from white privilege all my life and in recent years also from senior citizen privilege.  While we may not talk about it much the simple fact is that an old white guy can get away with a lot of minor infractions that would land a non-white or young person, regardless of color, in trouble.  All that said I am not blind to what goes on around me and the plight of others.

I’m going to anger many of the people on my side of the political divide because I’m not going to say all the names. In fact I’m just going to say one: Tamir Rice.

On Tuesday December 29, 2020 the Justice Department announced that it had found no cause to charge either of the two then-Cleveland police officers who fired the shots that killed then-12 year old Rice within seconds of rolling up on him while he played with a toy gun in a public park. Time and space constraints will not allow me to get into all the details of the case and “investigation” but allow me to hit a few points, (I certainly can’t say highpoints).

To say the least it appears the Justice Department investigation was constrained.

I followed the case from its occurrence back in 2014. I listened to the tapes of the initial call to 911 and the dispatcher’s instructions to the street officers.  The caller stated that the person in question was possibly a child and that the gun in question might well be a toy, not the real thing.  The dispatched told the responding officers to look for Black male wielding a gun in the park.

A nearby security camera caught the police/citizen interaction. The patrol car had hardly stopped when the passenger side officer was out of the car and shooting.  Am I the only one who will question the training and fitness of both the dispatcher and responding officers?

My degree is in Management not Law Enforcement but how can this be a good shoot? How can anyone deny a policing problem in America?  Do you think the outcome might have been different if Tamir had my skin color?

Getting back to the phrase, “Defund the police”, I know the verbiage doesn’t roll off the tongue well but until somebody comes up with a phrase that does might I suggest that we reexamine how we fund the police and reallocate some of their duties along with resources to other agencies better equipped to handle them. There are many social worker type functions that we throw at street cops but we never give then the specialized training to handle them let alone handle them well.  That is not fair to the police officer, the person they interact with or society.

The militarization of many police forces is equally ridiculous and counterproductive. Time and again we see police forces that have more cows than people in their jurisdictions equipped with vehicles more suited to an military armor unit that the local Sherriff’s Department.  These programs end up getting paid for with tax dollars (regardless of federal, state or local – it’s your tax dollars).  Is this the best use of the money?  Do you think that a paramilitary police presence enhances community relations and rapport between the police and locals?

With consideration of the risks street cops take I’m also asking for the public’s help. Don’t automatically call 911.  Have the non-emergency number for your local police in your phone and only use 911 in a true emergency.  A parking, noise or (in most cases) suspicious person issue is not a life threatening emergency that warrants 911 and an emergency response.  I want good policing but just as much I want those guys and gals going home safe at the end of their shift.

This is a major social problem that cannot be solved in a few paragraphs. Cases like Tamir Rice’s illustrate how far we are from a solution and they anger me.  In the spirit of don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; don’t let a poorly chosen phrase sink the examination of a problem and its possible at least partial solution.

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