Police officers are becoming a class apart

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Here in the good ol’ USA not a day goes by that doesn’t have something in the news about cops. Cops shoot someone, someone shoots cop(s), cops on trial, cops get more surplus military gear, corrupt cops, good cops, et al.

The violence involving the police has taken a turn for the worse recently, and a large number of people act surprised, which is stupid. Anyone with a few operative brain cells should have able to see it coming.  Consider these points:

The police departments nationwide have become more and more militarized over the last 30 years. They have a military type hierarchy, use military jargon, and even practice military etiquette in many cases. Cops no longer look like cops a large portion of the time. They look like commandos with the black Ninja suits or the camouflage gear.

They are armed to the teeth with the latest hi-tech weaponry, much of it given to their departments by the federal government. (or purchased for a big discount). They are often accompanied by large, fierce German shepherd-type dogs who will attempt to rip you apart if commanded to do so. And how about those lavish military type funerals for a fallen officer – cops come from miles around to attend those – at taxpayer expense.

The police of our country have in many cases become a separate society, significantly apart from the rest of us; they associate mostly with other cops, they speak “copspeak,” they live in cop neighborhoods. I believe they look down on the “civilians” – that’s the rest of us. They refer to us as “individuals,” not “people.”

When I lived in Ventura County, California, we knew a guy who was going through the Ventura County Sheriff’s Academy. Now there was a military type outfit if there ever was one: the drills, the marching/running songs, the language used and the culture the instructors were instilling in the cadets. In a way it was unsettling. One instructor even openly referred to non-police officers as “the assholes.” Police departments still “protect,” but mostly they protect themselves. “Serve”? Fading fast in many cases.

The police of this country are now largely unapproachable, mostly for the reasons given above. Successful and respected PDs have, among other things, adopted community policing, where instead of cruising around in a patrol car they are out in the open, riding bicycles, walking a beat. They are face-to-face with the people they are supposed to protect and serve. There are many opportunities for conversation and interaction, and with that goes better understanding on both sides.

I have had friends who were cops. One good friend was a very cool and savvy guy with a lot of experience who was smart enough to realize that when race entered the equation most reason went out the window, so he maintained his cool in some tough situations. Incidentally, he was white. When he was assigned to a largely Hispanic neighborhood he made an effort to learn Spanish. That earned him a lot os respect from the community. Conversely, I had another acquaintance that somehow managed to pass the psych test at the Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office and get into the academy. He became a cop for a local municipal PD.

Now, this guy was certifiable. He had a 44 magnum that he badly wanted to use on someone. How did he get by the psych test? And guess what? They immediately made him an undercover narc.

To try and put this all in perspective, there are some police persons out there who are genuinely interested in doing something good for society. They are in minority these days, but bless them for what they do. I respect the dangers our police face on a daily basis, the harassment and lack of respect from some people. I understand and sympathize about the substandard pay in many cases.

But we need to take a fresh look at our whole concept of policing and get our cops back into the society that many are now rejecting. We need to pay them well so as to attract the best. We need to condemn them when they break the law but also to sing their praises when the job is well done.

Much has been made of the push to restrict gun ownership. One popular theme is to have more restrictions on gun ownership by mentally unbalanced folks. We need to develop tests to screen out unsuitable applicants for police positions before they ever enter the force.

Pete Todd
Laporte, Colorado
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