When society is presented with the task of rehabilitating one of its failed public services the responses are normally varied and emotional. Everyone has an opinion that is based upon their worldview, and it’s usually a hill they’re willing to die upon. No subject gets people more heated than that of modern policing. Three incidents that have come to light recently have caused many to demand reform in law enforcement.
An incident in Crawford County GA, in which a sheriff’s deputy came onto a man’s land, shot his dog, and then ordered the man to cut his own pet’s head off went viral on social media. It is procedure that if an officer believes a dog may have been rabid, the head is to be removed so that samples can be taken. The disconnect is that this is to be done in a lab, with gloves, by a professional. Ignoring the callousness of the act the deputy demanded, he put the man’s health in danger with possible exposure to a contagion.
It was revealed recently that a Manassas VA detective, David Abbott, forced a 17 year-old, Trey Sims, to masturbate in front of himself, and a room full of armed officers, so Detective Abbott could get a picture of his erect penis. Sims had been accused of sending his 15 year-old girlfriend a video of himself that included his erect penis. Because Sims could not achieve an erection, Abbott sought a warrant to inject the boy with a chemical that would induce the condition the detective wanted that he may get his evidence. Only after the public was informed of this and became outraged was this put a stop to. In an unrelated case, Detective Abbott was soon after brought up on charges of child sex abuse and took his own life.
The last case making news is the acquittal of police officer Philip Brailsford in the death of pest control worker Daniel Shaver. While on business in Mesa, Arizona, Shaver was drinking with 2 acquaintances in a La Quinta Inn and Suites hotel room when he pulled out an air rifle that he used to exterminate birds inside retail stores. Shaver is said to have pointed the air rifle out of the hotel window at which time someone called the police to report the incident. When the police arrived they gave Shaver and his party orders at to how to proceed and that they would be shot if they didn’t follow them to the letter. A video shows a sobbing Shaver crawling on the floor towards police begging not to be shot.
Contradictory orders are being barked at Shaver who, already inebriated, appears confused and disoriented. At one point Shaver reaches to pull up his falling pants when Brailsford fires 5 rounds from an AR-15 killing him. As stated a jury found Brailsford not guilty. After the verdict the video was released to which the response on social media has been outrage even by people who would normally “Back the Blue.”
In the spirit of full disclosure I admit that this author was one of the people that was enraged. All three of these incidents raised my blood pressure to limits usually reserved for seconds after being involved in a car accident. After my levels returned to normal my thoughts turned to how we can reform a system that, in the opinion of many, has gone off the rails. Two recommendations came to mind. I consider both logical and moral in the framework of “To Serve and Protect.”
The first change that needs to be made is that police officers should not possess any rights beyond that of the citizen. What does that look like? The man or woman on the street only has the right to initiate force upon another when their, or someone else’s, person or property is being harmed. In short, either in defense of themselves or another. We have given police rights beyond what we have. That is not only dangerous in that it creates a “class above us,” but it is also impossible since humans do not possess the ability to pass along rights to others that they themselves do not have. If I have no right to enter my neighbor’s property because I suspect he may be doing something “illegal,” how can I authorize another to do so? It only makes sense in a world in which we have been conditioned to believe such. Universal rights should be paramount.
A second recommendation, and one that I believe should, and could be implemented tomorrow, is that police should stay at their station until called. This would put them in the same category as fireman; call in case of emergency. Through any internet search you will learn that police show up to a crime in progress less than 5% of the time. They are not preventing crime. One may argue that police presence prevents crime. Statistics show that if anything, police presence only delays the timeframe in which crimes are committed. When you take into consideration a court case such as Warren v. District of Columbia, in which the justices ruled that police have no duty to protect citizens, one must ask why most jurisdictions have such a heavy police presence if it is not preventing crime.
There can be no argument that improved training in deescalation tactics, interpersonal contact and many other techniques are needed in modern policing. They are all important, but fundamentals are always the starting point. I can’t help but wonder if the three incidents listed above would have worked out in a more humane, peaceful way, had police not been elevated above the citizenry, and splashed all over the streets looking for conflict in which they most often are the initiators.