This morning I posted an article on my Facebook page written by Mary Anne Case, a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, where she cited lessons from the 1991 Christopher Commission after the investigation into the police practices that led to the Rodney King beating by LAPD officers.
In her article, she claims that the police mistakes in Ferguson are the forgotten lessons learned 23 years earlier as cited in the Christopher Commission report.
I have no intention of dissecting the Ferguson incident, as I tend to be a collector of facts before spouting off an opinion. After an emotional event, information of biased or misleading nature tends to be used to promote a particular point of view. Having been a police officer for over 20 years, I’m smart enough to know that facts continually unfold and evidence is uncovered during a criminal investigation that can alter its course.
But I will speak to the premise in the Christopher Commission report that argues “macho tactics of the police and police-academy training overemphasize the paramilitary and physical and underemphasize interpersonal skills, sensitivity, politeness and the ability to communicate.”
Immediately upon posting this article on my Facebook newsfeed, a comment from one of my favorite dissenters surfaced (who also happens to be a police officer):
“We are paramilitary regardless of what all the tree-huggers think. If we start to turn soft while the world gets more violent we will have more dead cops.”
Therein lies the problem at its core. Interpersonal skills like empathy, compassion and communication are labeled “soft” and those who emphasize the need for these skills in police officers are labeled “tree-huggers”. I personally have never hugged a tree but I vehemently believe that the best police officers are those who know have both a servant heart and a warrior spirit.
We [police] are afforded the tools necessary to fight wrongdoing. The United States Constitution affords us the right to search someone’s home or person. This 4th Amendment Right is precious and when used in compliance with the laws of our land, we can seize evidence for criminal cases. We can also take away a person’s freedom through lawful incarceration. And the most mammoth of them all is the right to take a human life in order to protect human life.
These are monumental and as such, they should be given careful responsibility.
But what we [police] sometimes fail to utilize is the most powerful tool of all: our human influence. These so-called “soft” skills are the reason that successful police officers don’t have to move to force so quickly and don’t agitate offenders to the point of becoming violent.
Police are the first line of defense for our communities and with that, we need to be ready for warfare at all times. I don’t discount the necessity that our police forces comprise the militaristic maneuvers necessary to fight violent offenders.
What I’m suggesting quite vehemently is that those skills can be taught. Give me a police officer that is a skilled communicator and is hard-wired for empathy and compassion, and we will train them to become a warrior.
The argument is there are some who simply do not possess the skill of warriorship and to that my response is that police departments should recognize this while those recruits are in the academy and in the Field Training Program. Not everyone is cut out to run towards gunfire.
In my humble opine, police departments should spend as much time training officers in interpersonal skills as they do in military tactics. We should be recruiting officers who have elite communication and problem-solving skills.
There is nothing “soft” about a police officer with a servant heart who treats everyone – even those who break the law – with dignity and respect. They can still hold the line and be a force against evil when they must.
Now I’m going go find a tree to hug.
Now I’m going go find a tree to hug.