It is time to initiate public discourse about curious and disturbing manifestations of social dis-ease increasingly experienced by Americans. There is a diminished display of civility and declining experience of community throughout America. The current political campaigns make painfully clear the intensity of social discord and divisions within our nation. This insidious phenomenon robs us of a sense of solidarity-essential to the health and well-being of each citizen and every organization.
Crime, one symptom of lost social temperance, seems to be increasing in frequency, severity, randomness, senselessness, magnitude, and sheer horror. We try with limited success to avoid a sense of helplessness and gnawing awareness that we could be directly affected by terrifying event. The manner in which police officers are viewed and treated offers considerable insight into a way to begin to restore lost social temperance.
Public health officials have identified a startling increase in the incidence of anxiety and depression in children, adolescents and adults. Terror alerts, news of possible acts of terror, and steady diet of almost exclusively bad news increases our national hypervigilance. Security experts and law enforcement authorities warn we are about to experience a surge in violent crime including domestic and international terrorism. The unthinkable has already occurred, yet authoritative sources warn the traumas that have rocked our nation are small waves when compared to the ‘spectacular’ tsunami’s that will challenge our resolve in the months and years to come.
These unsettling facts are complicated and exacerbated by a related symptom of our national dis-ease: the manner in which we treat public servants called upon to serve and protect our loved ones children domestic predators international terrorists. Historically, our country has demonstrated a lack of uniformity in the way we treat public servants sworn to protect us from predators. Law enforcement personnel are accorded far less support and respect than those who serve in various military branches. Americans simply don’t to demonstrate the same kind or level of support for police officers on patrol within our borders as compared to those public servants on patrol outside our borders.
We are rightly exhorted to show tremendous heartfelt respect for military servicemen and women. During times of war, we have learned the value of rallying behind members of the military independent of our views about military objectives and actions. We receive somber reports about casualties, citizens write letters and send care packages to unknown soldiers, and show support in innumerable ways for those serving in the military. Americans simply won’t dare risk advertising arrogance by questioning the lawful actions of rank and file military personnel. Americans demonstrate evidence of painful lessons learned from the Vietnam era.
ARROGANT PUBLIC SCRUTINY
Yet we fail to recognize any national disgrace in the way we treat police officers who patrol our communities each day. We conduct necessary activities to ‘police the police’ with a frightening lack of prudence and common sense. Law enforcement authorities and patrol officers are subject to unbridled and arrogant public scrutiny. “Monday morning criticism” of police activities is considered a constitutional right without commensurate social responsibility to demonstrate consistent and strong ‘Sunday afternoon support’.
Americans seem to consider this strangely routine ritualistic dissection of police activity to be a new sport or national pastime.. The manner in which we daily betray police officers is as disgraceful as our collective betrayal of the public servants who served in Vietnam, but perhaps even more foolish and myopic.
It is as if we are witnessing the social equivalent of an auto-immune disease. We are turning against and weakening the very institutions and individuals we depend upon for national security and protection in our communities.
The level of this social auto-immune dis-ease appears to be increasing at the same rate as the threats to our safety and security. Just as we require a healthy immune system to fight off everything from the common cold to cancer, so too we must have strong and healthy law enforcement agencies and police officers. The worst types of stress, causing the greatest problems for the immune system include uncertainty, unpredictability, inability to influence a desired outcome, frequent exposure to individuals in distress, suffering caused by human beings and adrenaline bursts. These stressors are written into the job requirements and part of the daily duties of a police officer. Social support, typically identified as a major way to neutralize the negative effects of stress, is too often replaced by public hostility and criticism beamed into every living room in the country.
Rather than rally to support police officers when we most need them, we hurl criticism and batter them with insults. Such behavior weakens an aspect of our social immune system we depend on for survival.
WEED OUT CORRUPTION
Unarguably, It is critical to weed out all forms of corruption, discrimination, wrongdoing, and abuse of power within each law enforcement unit. Power does have a tendency to corrupt, and police officers have power. If a police officer commits a crime, he should get what is coming to him. If a police officer uses excessive force, has a demonstrable pattern of discrimination toward a particular racial or ethnic group, drives under the influence of alcohol, is abusive to a spouse or a child, he should face the same penalties as any other member of our society. No one can argue we need to address such issues in a more aggressive and effective manner. No one is above the law. It is essential that there is a system of checks and balances in place, a mechanism that allows for early identification of bad police officers. Every profession has bad apples, and law enforcement is no different.
Disrespect Police Officers at out Peril
However, we must ensure that our efforts to weed out the bad cops are balanced by a similar level of readiness and zeal to support the vast majority of good officers, and redress forms of discrimination against these public servants. Our national security requires Americans to initiate a public campaign to cultivate respect for domestic public servants commensurate with the nature and type of support shown to members of our military.
We can no longer afford to deny the existence or the ramifications of this dangerous double standard. We must ensure that domestic public servants along with our military personnel experience full public support and access to all necessary training and equipment to perform their duties in a competent and safe manner. We simply can’t crucify a police officer whose actions might be explained by chronic sleep deprivation, inadequate weaponless self defense training, ailing emergency communications systems, or the innumerable problems facing police officers. Our national integrity and safety within our communities requires us to demonstrate civility, courtesy, and ordinary human kindness to this group of public servants.
Acknowledge Competent Performance of Thankless Work
Law enforcement personnel and emergency room doctors and nurses have many things in common. Whether we realize it or not, good police work requires a level of skill and knowledge equivalent to emergency room personnel, just different types of skills, information, and technology. These are extraordinarily stressful occupations that exact a serious toll on the lives of such individuals and their families. Both lines of work require tremendous skill, courage, discipline, that guide them in making split second life and death decisions. These individuals are too often treated with disrespect and abuse as they intervene in situations they did not create but must manage. We want our ER physicians and nurses to be properly trained, with access to every resource they need so they can care for our loved ones.
Truth be Told
Public servants engaged in law enforcement have not been recognized and supported in any way commensurate to the nature and degree they deserve. There are many factors that contribute to the generally poor manner in which our country treats members of the law enforcement community. People are unaware of the rigors of police work, know little of the way in which it cuts years off one’s life, places marriages in jeopardy and influences how one perceives the world.
Vice-President Joseph Biden has repeatedly said law enforcement is the highest form of public service ( along with motherhood, in my view). The badge worn by police officers is referred to as ‘the heavy badge‘. Perhaps it is best left unsaid, but the thin bit of steel that keeps the badge in place also pierces the heart of the human being who wears it. Some things cannot be forgotten, some experiences grab hold of a man and won’t let go. It is impossible to forget the looks in the eyes of police officers who recognize their lives are considered expendable.
HUMILITY and SOLIDARITY
Anything is acceptable in the absence of human solidarity. Americans have yet to demonstrate the same type of respect and support for police officers that we show members of our military. Until we do, these public servants are simply dispensable cogs in a wheel that can be replaced. Americans have a responsibility to begin to ‘walk a mile’ with police officers on patrol. Perhaps, anyone who believes they have a right to pass judgment on a police officer should earn that right.
Public authorities, elected officials, community leaders, reporters, columnists, and ordinary citizens could cultivate humility and initiate the process of establishing Solidarity with police officers by participation in ridealongs spending time with police families, formal programs to develop a deeper appreciation for these public servants. Anyone with even a hint of awareness of the realities faced by these police officers would not rush to judge an accused officer.
A Telling Tale
Several years ago, the local newspaper published an essay that urged local authorities to participate in police ridealongs as a way to expedite the process of fixing an ailing emergency communication system that created aptly named ‘dead zones’ making it impossible for police officers to police officers to call for back up. While the newspapers never truly communicated the severity of the problem during this period, the eyes of every police officer communicated a few chilling realities-they learned their lives were expendable, their work thankless, and inexplicably no lives were lost. Curiously, not a single local authority ever participated in the recommended ridealongs with police officers.
Reconciliation and Justice
Our nation is divided. Anything is possible in the absence of Solidarity. Somehow we know we have betrayed our police officers as we betrayed veterans of the Vietnam era. Self-interest alone should summon our collective will to demonstrate public support for these public servants sworn to serve and protect us during the most dangerous time in our nation’s history. There is every reason for our country to to launch a campaign to restore social temperance, civility, and create a genuine sense of Solidairity with our police officers.
A First Step
Let the word go forth: A sense of Solidarity within a family, a state, a country makes anything possible. If we delay any longer to equip these public servants with our support we do so at our peril and advertise our profound ignorance. In my opinion, a clear and resolute demonstration of public support for police officers is just what the doctor ordered to enhance our public health.