What has happened to the image of the law enforcement officer who is sworn to protect and serve? A child does not come out of the womb hating law enforcement. The law enforcement officer has a job that our Black youth have no desire to become. Is there a disconnect between law enforcement and the community? Why do some of our law enforcement management personnel promote an “Us against Them” attitude in the rank and file?
Unfortunately, there are many law enforcement officers who have the same view. I always ask the question who is the “them”? If it is me against them, what is the description of the “Them”? I have yet to get an answer.
Damon K. Jones, NY Rep. Blacks in Law Enforcement of America
When I was growing up in Greenburgh, NY, nobody ever promoted such hate and distrust in law enforcement as they do today. The police department represented a place of safety and a place of justice. You knew your local law enforcement officer, he lived on the block, and he was your neighbor. Two Greenburgh Police Officers coached me in Dad’s Club Football when I was in the fifth grade through the seventh grade. Because of these brothers, Mike and Ray Turnbull’s involvement with me and my community, I wanted to be in law enforcement.
These days most law enforcement officers do not live in the community they work in. In most cases, the new recruits have no ties to the community they now work for, thus stereotypes must be broken on the officer’s side and on the community’s side before an honest relationship can begin.
We can say that times have changed. There are economic issues, jobless issues that make the people cold hearted toward law enforcement. However, at the end of the day every community wants to be safe. So why is there a distrust of law enforcement?
Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, there has been a disturbing trend in the United States, that of police departments becoming more like the military, yet the militarization trend has gone unnoticed by most politicians, the U.S. Justice Department, the Bush Administration and thus far, by the Obama administration.
McGuire and King (2004) in their discussion of trends in the “Policing Industry” refer to “large-scale, macro or meta-level trends in policing.” Militarization is one such example, since the concept contributes to a transformation in the character and landscape of policing in the United States. “Militarization has replaced community policing in many parts of the U.S. With militarization has brought forth a “destroy” and war mentality held by many police officers and, in response from civilians, a massive distrust of the police by the populace.”
The Bureau of Justice (BJS) reports that 58% of all departments use full-time community policing officers. Overall, 37% of residents in 12 cities reported seeing police talking with residents in their neighborhood and 24% of respondents reported observing police facilitating crime watch and prevention activities.
Community-based policing is both a philosophy (a way of thinking) and an organizational strategy (a means to carry out that philosophy) that allows the police and community to work together in new ways to solve problems of crime, disorder, and safety. It rests on two core elements: changing the methods and practice of the police and taking steps to establish a real working relationship between the police and the community they claim to protect and serve.
At the heart of community-based policing is the recognition that the police are much more than mere crime fighters and can be public servants in other ways. The end goal is the creation of a professional, representative, responsive, and accountable institution that works in partnership with the public. These ‘peace officers’ are a service rather than a force, and an institution that only criminals need rightly fear.
The militarization of the police department has caused concern from many organizations and legal scholars. Most believe that the transformation of U.S. police departments is therefore volatile and dangerous. Just as significant, the militarization of many U.S. Police departments present a constitutional crisis.
In 2010, Governor David Patterson signed an agreement with homeland Security to involve local New York police departments in the Secured Community Program by Homeland Security. A few years earlier Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) implemented 287g program that have police officers checking to see if a person was an illegal immigrant. These two programs are having local police departments doing the work and duties of the Federal Government.
In fact, a report issued by Major Cities’ Chiefs, a group of over 50 big city police chiefs, indicated that “immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively affect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities.”
There are some that feel states agreeing to programs by Homeland Security is a step toward themilitarization of U.S. police agencies and an affront to the spirit and ethos of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which holds that themilitary cannot be used as “the police.“ Some might argue that the Posse Comitatus act does not mention police departments, Justice Marshall and Justice Douglass in their dissent in Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 19; 92 S. Ct. 2318 (1972) wrote:
“The alarm was sounded in the Constitutional Convention about the dangers of the armed services. Luther Martin of Maryland said, “whena government wishes to deprive its citizens of freedom, and reduce them to slavery, it generally makes use of a standing army.” That danger, we have held, exists not only in bold acts of usurpation of power, but also in gradual encroachments.”
As to the former sentence, police departments across America are creating their own armies. As to the latter sentence of the Dissent passage [above], as the statutory exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act grow, some police commanders seize the vulnerability and create military rule by dressing officers in fatigues and giving them M16s and tanks, in America’s residential communities (minority neighborhoods in particular).
The militarization of the police by the police circumvents a primary objective of the Posse Comitatus Act. The objective is that of enabling citizens to perceive their day-to-day lives as free of military-governmental siege. Although, the Posse Comitatus Act [statute] speaks to behavior of the military and imposes harsh punishment on the military commander [by example] who dares use the military as police, the Act imposes no restrictions on police commanders who turn civilian police departments into military machines.
Reform to the police alone, however, is insufficient because community support and assistance are also necessary to achieving the basic goals of the police. Community-based policing, therefore, also encompasses strategies to reorient the public who, for frequently good reasons, have been leery and distrustful of the police. However, beyond a rhetorical commitment to community policing there has been little sense of how to operate a process to achieve the changes sought. In the best-case scenario, management should come from the community; have a true history with the people in that community so it will enable them to better manage the rank and file to give proper service to the community through law enforcement.
In the communities of color in Westchester County, the crime rate has escalated with the insurgence of weapons in the communities. Controlling the availability and circulation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) is vital in the effort to increase community safety, the aim of community-based policing. Does crime control necessitate and justify police departments shifting from a police service to a military character? Do the citizens we claim to serve really feel safe?
However, citizens will only be willing to hand over firearms in their possession if they perceive an improvement in public safety and security, and if they have a certain degree of trust in the law enforcement and other security agencies, instead of seeing tanks blocking their streets.
This is where community-based policing can play an important role in strengthening SALW initiatives. Similarly, if there is a good working relationship between the policing and the community, it will be easier for the policing to obtain information about arms caches or transit routes for arms trafficking.
Community-based policing, through its partnership approach, aims to ensure that the safety and security needs of all groups in a particular community are addressed. In this way, the police can facilitate all people’s access to justice, regardless of their social or economic status. Addressing local needs while effectively combating crime improves safety and security, and with it, strengthens the conditions for development to take place.
Policing is an activity that is not carried out in isolation. All the disparate aspects of policing that individual officers are called upon to do, from issuing parking tickets to thwarting crimes, impact and involve other institutions and processes.
In closing, effective community policing will link other criminal justice institutions. The Police Department is the primary entry point to the justice system. A fair, competent, non-discriminatory, and respectful police is integral to upholding the rule of law. Along with courts and the correctional service, the police are an essential part of the ‘triad’ of institutions needed to make a justice system run effectively and truly serve its community.