Commentary: By Derrick Miller
December 20, 2014, was a dark day for members of the New York City Police Department, which lost two of its own execution style by a criminal from Baltimore, Maryland. After he shot his girlfriend, he drove over 300 miles and ambushed the officers while the waited inside their patrol car. His actions were condemned by the nation.
Regardless of one’s location, race, culture, or economic status, someone lost an Aunt, sister, daughter uncle, husband, father, brother, son. I have written many commentaries on public safety and criminal issues. I argued, “Efforts have to be made to make sure, if one life is lost, it should be a sad day, as a soldier killed in a war despite one’s belief for or against that war.”
Today, it seems the evolution of policing, as it strives to better serve and protect the public has been under attack from those who still hold barbaric ideology against the institution. It is extremely difficult for families to fathom that someone would schedule a law enforcement officer on a list as if it is hunting season for birds or deer.
This mindset must be met with resistance.It is not a good feeling to attend the funeral of a fallen officer regardless of ones location, race or culture. Many of these public servants have lost their lives prematurely, simply for being an officer. If society continues to incubate an ideology that believes disagreements, unfavourable judicial outcome and or negative feeling against law enforcement is an avenue to attack public servants in general, and ignore their criminal behaviour, is a sad day.
Although some communities have been frustrated as what they see as an uneven justice system stagnated by zip codes, culture, race and social stratification, one should always be aware that police officers put their lives on the line every day to keep the community safe, and society needs them. The racial makeup sometimes is not the problem, but a history of distrust and marginalization. Rather than blaming an entire institution for a few off-blue behaviours is farfetched. Modernized governance has emphasized a narrative to create an adaptability shift that focuses on economic policies, addressing mental disorder, drug and alcohol abuse that often becomes toxic when one meets a police officer, as many scholars have argued. The relationship forged between both sides is important. Furthermore, when conflicts arise they have to be addressed.
Ferguson was one of those issues and the relationship between blacks and whites. In addition, some white separatist groups also challenge the existence of law enforcement. For example, when law enforcement officials backed down in their effort to seize Bundy’s cattle, after hundreds of armed militias arrived to show support for the Bundy family. The psychological switch and emotional detachment by some pundits who supported these people who stood ready to execute the officers. Today, some only see the New York shooting as an isolated issue through a narrow lens, when violence against an officer cannot be selective.
What policing faces today is a crossroad between the old political era, and the current community approach. Quietly, few will speak publicly, and when they do, they try to balance any public push-back from interest groups, “I am a gun owner, and one should keep their gun.” However, you just got shot by a madman. Stop fooling yourself. I would argue that some state laws produce a rise in police shootings with the relaxation of gun laws. Many others have taken on the Constitution for their own shortcomings. Today, it is extremely difficult to differentiate a sworn officer at a mall or local restaurant from someone who is having a bad day; just finished shooting at the gun-range and the weapon is still hot.
What transpired in New York City has been a problem in many poor and developing countries, where the targeting of police officers by criminals has been a major problem. Sadly, it has reach Midtown, and it is troubling. Even for many local businesses, a gun permit has become more important than the overall business model. Police officers are overworked and underpaid, while they have to now wear multiple hats in keeping the public safe and make it home to their families.
A few weeks ago, I read an article in the Economist. It listed the number of deaths resulting from police officers shooting. In the US 458, Germany 8, Britain zero, and Japan zero. The implication would suggest that, in the US, police officers perhaps are quicker to shoot. Another analysis could make an argument that fewer police officers were killed in these same counties. However, they do have stricter gun laws. The US has a long history of war against criminals, especially drug related crimes. It also has led to a higher incarceration rate compared to other industrialised nations. In addition, one cannot discount disparities in the sentencing laws. However, many need to disentangle the mindset that all police practices are bad in today’s democratic society.
Policing in the 21st century has more checks and balances than before. Decentralization of departments has been successful in solving crimes in the community, but with more risks. They are better equipped despite sophistication of criminals today. However, society must deviate from the myth that all officers are out to get everyone they meet. Sure, in any institutions, despite training, policies, goals, rules, there are bad apples and, when they are found, they must be removed.
Despite the killing of these two officers, the sustainability of policing remains relevant and intact and these attacks must stop. Although many hearts have been broken, the former Soviet Union policing under Stalin would not be approved today. These departments will have to balance the sustainability of modern nation building when almost everyone has access to guns. Even in hostile situations, when they are often outgunned, they must balance perception with reality.
Today’s police officers are tasked with multiple jobs, from running an organization as a CEO, mediator, counselor, diversity coordinator and volunteer at the local school. It is extremely difficult being an officer with constant social changes. They have to engage through civilian interactions, suspects, group decision-making, stress, hostility, and danger daily. In the end, an officer’s overall behaviour always comes back to rights and power that falls along the same typology such as reasonable suspicion to probable cause to make an arrest or engage further.
Today, the concept of community policing, despite the good it has done, many outside looking in believe they know what is best. Stakeholders should still have a voice, especially to make sure that one’s civil rights remain intact and do not further divide the nation, but it cannot become a block to discuss the needs to dismantle serial killers, gangsters, robbers, rapist and criminal enterprises.
Many pundits have taken this sad time as an opportunity on television to exploit this tragedy to generate ratings, while other will be narrowing it simply by race, and blame demonstrations, the NY City mayor, the police commissioner, the attorney general and even the president and ignore the cause of these problems. This is not the time for everyone, including the police union, which has a major role, to call for calm. It is understandable that sometimes one’s frustration and the negative political atmosphere can give a feeling as if the institution is walking backward. However, if the creator wanted us to walk backward, I believe our eyes would have been placed in the back of our heads. So, as a society, we must move forward and work together.
More importantly, an offender’s criminogenic mentality, combined with poor risk analysis or even mental health issues should be under attack. Reinforcing hate, polarization through anger, only complicates the officer’s role because, regardless of one’s socio-economic status, race, or community, everyone needs some level of protection only an officer can offer.
The system has to have some balance because, if unchecked, there would be no reason(s) for civil rights laws. Nevertheless, the role an officer will be scrutinized and constantly remain under the microscope as it has since the concept of policing was created centuries ago, regardless if an officer is a mounted police, patrolling today in an armoured vehicle or sits behind a desk.
Note: Some of the photos were taken from N.Y. Time, CNN. Reuters, and other major news outlets during the funeral, archives and from the writer’s camera.