Cops In Donut Shops

I will admit the inspiration for today’s title came from a rather lighthearted song: The Bangals’ 1986 hit Walk Like an Egyptian; but today’s topic is very serious. America is at its lowest point in police-community relations since the 1960’s. I certainly can neither solve nor completely discuss that in a few hundred words but I’d like to explore two words of the solution: community policing.

To me community policing is in large part having front line police officers interact with the public. Boiled down to its core it is really that simple. Personal relationships will defuse a lot of situations and build an element of trust.

Probably dating back to the ‘70’s and certainly since the ‘80’s I have always had friends in law enforcement. Perhaps that accounts for why, even as a liberal, I tend to at least try to understand the viewpoint of and challenges law enforcement personnel face on a daily basis. Policing is a “fraternity” where people from the outside are never completely “taken in”, but some enjoy a more insightful relationship than others. I fall into that category. I didn’t always agree on every issue and action with my friends in blue but I understood where they came from and the feeling was mutual. You don’t always have to agree with someone to respect them. In fact that is one of the beauties of community policing.

Most of my “cop buddies” are retired but of those still active I have a few who run departments. One is the Chief in a small town where he requires his on the road officers to report ten citizens that they spoke to after every shift. The idea is to get them out of their cars and interacting with the people they are sworn to protect and serve. In that process a mutual respect is built up and lines of communication are opened. Community policing can often enable officers to solve a problem with a conversation and not having to resort to arrest. Problem solved, less expense, less danger for the officer and everyone is happy.

Community policing also leads to better crime solving and often preventing a bad situation before it occurs or festers. A citizen thinks twice before they call or go to the police station to report something. However if they happen to be chatting with their buddy Joe, who just happens to be the local cop, they are very likely to slip that tidbit into the conversation. It’s not like filing a formal complaint; it’s shooting the breeze with my friend. Knowledge is power especially in the hands of law enforcement.

Community policing is not a panacea. The real hardened criminals aren’t going to become friends with the constable on patrol (that’s where the acronym cop came from). The idea is to not alienate average citizens. There is no need to arrest them and the police have better things to do than be bothered hassling them.

There is too much of an “us versus them mentality” from both the police and the citizenry. I firmly believe that in most cases the more we interact the better off society is. In order for that to happen police and citizens have to make normal, non-threatening personal interactions a commonplace occurrence.

So the next time you walk into a donut shop and see an officer or two don’t think your tax dollars are being wasted by another civil servant goofing off. In fact your tax dollars are being well spent and your community will be safer for it. You might think about buying them a cup of coffee and saying thank you.

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