Reimagining our police forces: guardians or warriors? - Albuquerque Journal

Reimagining our police forces: guardians or warriors?

Bill Bratton has been the police commissioner of three major cities: Boston, Los Angeles and New York. When asked recently about the value of cops, Bratton, 73, said, “They are the glue that literally holds society together. They are an essential element of a successful democracy.” I agree.

But we have come to a place now where we need to decide if police are our guardians or our warriors. The latter is defined as “a person engaged or experienced in warfare, a solider.”

In 1990, Congress allowed the Department of Defense to pass on surplus military equipment, including armored vehicles, high-caliber weapons and flash-bang grenades, to individual police departments. Some 11,500 local agencies have gotten over $7.4 billion worth of military gear. President Biden ended the practice, but our police are now quasi-military ready, which gives some the impression they are more of an invading force than public safety officers.

Maybe it is time to try something different?

For many decades American police officers have been trained as warriors, instructed to shoot a perpetrator’s center-mass torso area if they perceive a danger to the citizenry or themselves. Today many cops, especially those serving in crime-riddled major cities, could rightfully describe their work as life-or-death, their workplace as a battlefield. But are they inadvertently adding to the tension?

We should all appreciate that police officers today are asked to be so many things – a guardian, a warrior, a first responder and a mediator between domestic partners, warring gang members, drug addicts and citizens suffering all sorts of mental health issues. Is your job description that vast?

Besieged and underappreciated cops are resigning or taking early retirement in record numbers. Violent crime is up in almost every major city. Yet there are still foolish calls to defund the police. Something has to change to break this cycle — but what, exactly?

Currently, new officers go through an average six months of police academy training before they can be sworn in. That time likely needs to increase, and courses added to better train recruits when to choose de-escalation before resorting to deadly force.

Some might snicker at that suggestion, but research shows de-escalation techniques work. Police in Newark, New Jersey, didn’t fire a single shot last year after its officers underwent this training. Use-of-force incidents showed significant drops after de-escalation instruction in San Francisco, down 24%; Cleveland, down 32%; and Louisville, down 28%. Instead of responding to fraught events by shouting orders and with guns drawn, officers are taught to take cover, talk patiently with the suspect and try to establish a bond to try to reach a peaceful solution.

This will require a whole new mindset for some cops, but the change means fewer injuries and deaths for both officers and civilians.

“Police are taught you never give up,” Chuck Wexler, a law enforcement consultant says, but “in some situations it’s OK to back off.”

Also, more attention and manpower ought to be deployed to known high-crime areas. Crime stats show violence tends to be geographically centralized. In Chicago, New York, St. Louis and other big cities just a few low-income Black and Hispanic neighborhoods have suffered the brunt of violence and skyrocketing homicides. More undercover intelligence and precise SWAT-like operations to combat this should be a top priority. Residents there don’t support defunding police – quite the contrary.

How to help reduce the stress for officers? Studies show a considerable number of 911 calls are for people suffering a substance abuse or mental health crisis. When a uniformed and armed officer arrives at such a scene the situation can become inflamed. So Congress has just approved a $1 billion, 10-year federal program to help communities create mental health teams who are trained to handle these unpredictable calls for help. This could go a long way to taking the pressure off police who are frequently ill-trained to handle such situations.

Yes, things need to change and the good news is: They are. Many cities that cut police funding have come to their senses and are restoring it, re-thinking police priorities and hoping disillusioned cops will stay on the force.

Now, one of the best things we, the public, can do is wave off the horrid rhetoric that police are the enemy. They decidedly are not.

www.DianeDimond.com; email to Diane@DianeDimond.com.

 

Home » Opinion » Columnists » Reimagining our police forces: guardians or warriors?


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Personal to me, Jose Armas' death felt across NM
Columnists
One of the blessings about returning ... One of the blessings about returning to New Mexico was that it put me back in touch with Jose Armas. ...
2
Thieves take so much more than your cash
Columnists
Being victimized can cause trauma, and ... Being victimized can cause trauma, and has nothing to do with your 'intelligence or common sense'
3
Tips for keeping you and your energy bills cool ...
Columnists
It is hot outside. According to ... It is hot outside. According to PNM, demand for electricity is highest during the summer cooling sea ...
4
A new community hub for the South Valley
Columnists
Social Enterprise Center brings new approach ... Social Enterprise Center brings new approach to economic development
5
Navajo nurses took different paths to making big differences ...
Columnists
Looking back on long nursing careers, ... Looking back on long nursing careers, Erma Marbut and Lavenia Diswood are most proud of the ways the ...
6
Anniversaries of grief bring lessons, opportunities to help
ABQnews Seeker
You will not 'get over' the ... You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you'll learn to live with it
7
Journal reader engagement focusing on underrepresented communities
Columnists
I moved to Albuquerque from Colorado ... I moved to Albuquerque from Colorado last November, marking the third time in my 53 years that IR ...
8
NM voters should get say on healthy environment
Columnists
What is the Green Amendment and ... What is the Green Amendment and what would it do? Democrats in the New Mexico House and Senate have ...
9
Newspaper memo from the past rings just as true ...
Columnists
Editorial page writer Sharon Hendrix rarely ... Editorial page writer Sharon Hendrix rarely throws anything out. So before retiring last month after ...