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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By John J. Carroll
April 17, 2015
Time for that second cup of coffee! A doughnut is an exceptionally rare event these days. More likely, I will have a bagel (usually dry) with my coffee. This is the 21st century after all and we are supposed to be eating healthier.
If you did not catch my first piece on these topics earlier this month, a caveat is in order. I may be a full time academic now but that followed a career as a law enforcement executive. I posit that the topic offered this month– militarization of law enforcement—may be what people are discussing, but is by no means new.
Assaults/murders of law enforcement officers and reported crimes are at record lows. In 2013, there were 27 officers killed in the line of duty and 49,851 were assaulted. Compare that to 1987 where 74 officers were killed and 63,842 were assaulted.
Is this because of militarization of law enforcement? No.
Is it better staffing, equipment, training and management? I would like to think so. I remember the whole “cops are outgunned” argument. I remember wearing bulky body armor, carrying a “six shooter” revolver and a baton.
As with anything else, knowledge and technology advanced. Revolvers became automatics. Batons became expandable. Non-lethal technology also evolved from Mace to pepper spray to electric stun weapons. Use of force policies and self-defense training got better. Shotguns are still around, but patrol rifles appear more widely deployed on patrol (not to say that I am a patrol rifle supporter). Riot gear and tactics seem largely unchanged over the years.
A number of agencies have always leaned toward a more militaristic appearance and demeanor (particularly state highway patrols). During times of emergency, law enforcement becomes more command structured to better manage an event. Yet, I have never heard a citizen or an elected official complain about police militarization.
A 2011 National Institute of Justice study revealed that 81.5 percent of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the police – the unique aspect here is that all of the respondents were selected from people who had encounters with the police. This follows a stream of studies that show similar results. Iinternal community surveys over the years were very similar.
Governing reports that from 2008 through 2012, police (fire and EMS too) received 80 percent or better satisfaction ratings and had the highest ratings of all local government services. I will admit that Fire and EMS probably helped the ratings because everyone loves them! Could this level of satisfaction exist in the face of mistrust and skepticism?
Contrary to what is viewed in the entertainment media (dramatic programs and news), the vast majority of what law enforcement officers do every day is not crime related. Most time spent is handling service calls or interacting with the community. There might be a little coffee and doughnut time in there too.
How does the community feel about the media? According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 60 percent of respondents record distrust of the media to accurately, fairly or fully report the news. In a 2011 Pew Center study, news organizations equaled or surpassed the all-time lows in performance indicators since1985. This is exactly the opposite of what it should be.
Law enforcement officers should take responsibility for reducing crime and treating people in a civil and ethical way – period. Law enforcement agencies should work every day to improve services and enhance trust. The community should hold their police accountable for unjust acts of use of force and mistreatment. The community must be skeptical, yet trust its public servants. A typical shift is not the continuous parade of chases and violence shown in the news. Perhaps the media can focus more on building trust.
Author: John J. Carroll, Ph.D., is an assistant professor for public administration at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Before joining academia, he served in the public sector for more than 30 years. He is a retired deputy sheriff major and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. His research and teaching interests include public administration from the “prac-ademic’s” perspective. Email: [email protected].