I missed something. In last week's column about policing and protests, I failed to include the obligatory media disclaimer, “Most cops are good people...”
A common theme in the early fawning coverage of the Fargo protests was that officers used “restraint.” Oh. You mean they didn't pummel anyone. Or shoot anyone. In other words, they did their jobs.
I'd like to point out that today when I drove to the office, I used my blinkers and obeyed the speed limit. And I'm using spell check on this column. Give me a medal.
There's a lot of unhealthy psychology to unravel in our societal deification of uniforms, but what is healthy is the long-overdue reexamination of policing in America. Unsurprisingly, the clumsy catchphrase, “defunding the police,” has sparked hysteria from propagandists who would have you believe that it's a leftist endorsement of anarchy. Oysters, get busy. America needs more pearls to clutch.
What “defunding” really means is reallocating assets in society's better interests -- shifting money from putative policing and spending more on mental health and social services -- addressing homelessness and addiction with compassion instead of blunt force.
Camden, NJ once had a murder rate six times the national average, but in 2012, the community dismantled its police force and rebuilt it from the ground up, refocusing on community policing. The crime rate fell. By 2018, murder rates were at 30-year lows.
Isn't it time to transition from lazy, gotcha traffic-stop encounters to building relationships on the streets and in the schools? Healthy societies are built upon healthy relationships.
It's not just the police, though. Society itself -- the judicial system, especially -- must evolve. Criminalizing addiction has failed. A focus on treatment has succeeded in Europe, but in America, we have for-profit prisons, an incentive to incarcerate, and we jail more human beings than any other nation.
Then there's the militarization of the police. When cops look like they just rolled in from Fallujah, citizens start looking like insurgents. The message is not to “serve and protect.” It's to “intimidate and dominate.”
Yes, policing's a dangerous business, as illustrated by the recent death of Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte at the wrong end of an AK-47 during an eviction. But he's just collateral damage in our Second Amendment Utopia, isn't he, freedom fighters? Does anyone know to which well-regulated militia the shooter belonged?
We live in a nation with more guns than people. It's insanity. Anyone can have a concealed weapon in North Dakota. Anyone. Connect the dots. You don't want a creeping police state? Deescalate the arms race. Not everyone should have a gun.
According to the National Center for Women and Policing, “at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence,” as compared to 10% in the general population. It's critical that we improve psychological profiling and ongoing mental health assessments of officers.
The profession does attract its share of bullies and authoritarians but the accumulated mental strain takes its toll even on the well-adjusted. My nephew, a veteran CSI agent, told me quietly one day that his job entails “dealing with people on the worst day of their lives.” As best he can, he's trying to make things better.
Make things better. Serve and protect. Relationships. It could work.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service.