Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 12:41 pm

Anti-police? Or pro-police, pro-public?

One would like to think that a guy who worked his way up from Drug Enforcement Administration agent to assistant director of that agency, a guy who served as both head of witness protection and associate director for operations of the U.S. Marshals’ Service, a guy who served as both fire commissioner and police commissioner for the City of New York, a guy who now gets paid very high dollars to do security consulting, would be able to face a little criticism without soiling his drawers.

One would like to think that.

But one would be wrong.

Howard Safir, the guy who has held all those positions, is crying hysterically that the criticism police now are facing in the U.S. is unmatched in the past 45 years.

He is wrong. Factually, objectively wrong.

He writes, “We have seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest offices in the land.” In fact, nothing that President Obama or New York Mayor Bill diBlasio has said can rationally be construed as “police bashing.”

He writes that Eric Garner and Michael Brown died resisting arrest. Garner was doing nothing of the sort when he was slain with an illegal choke hold. And even if one accepts that Michael Brown tried to reach into Officer Darren Wilson’s car and was justifiably shot and wounded for doing so, there is no credible evidence that Brown posed an immediate threat to Wilson or other civilians when Wilson fired the final, fatal shots.

He writes that current levels of “anti-police rhetoric” are unparalled in the past 45 years.  However, anyone who was around in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls that violent clashes between police and protesters were commonplace. And the protesters were raising hell about that, often in very intemperate language.

Today? There have been some clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in which the language has been intemperate, but on nowhere near the scale of decades ago.

No, what’s going on today is something different — something pro-public and, I would argue, pro-police. I don’t mean “pro-police” in the mindlessly jingoistic sense, but pro-police in the very practical sense of making law enforcement officers’ jobs safer and easier.

People are asking for the police to be open about and accountable for their actions. They are asking for law enforcement to stop discriminating against African Americans, which research shows it indubitably does. And they are insisting that the police be bound to obey the same laws the rest of us must.

Now unlike some people, I don’t think police are any worse-behaved today than they’ve ever been. In fact, they’re arguably much better behaved in most jurisdictions. But when everybody with a phone has a camera, police malfeasance is much more likely to be publicized than it used to be. And the larger number of reported incidents, with greater detail, reaching more people on social media, with accompanying demands that police be held accountable, looks, to the casual observer, like it might be anti-police.

It isn’t. People are insisting, rather, that cops restore “to protect and serve” to a phrase of some intellectual and moral value by behaving themselves, by treating everyone fairly including minorities who long have been treated disproportionately more harshly by law enforcement, and by being subject to the same administrative discipline or criminal punishment as anyone else would be who had misbehaved similarly.

There are some good reasons why law enforcement should want to do those things — and not only because they comports with the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the Golden Rule.

Comporting with those standards is important for its own sake. But when cops behave openly and appropriately and transparently, and are publicly disciplined when they don’t, the public’s trust in and respect for law enforcement grows. And that growth has two major practical benefits for law enforcement.

First, it makes the public more likely to confide in and cooperate with police, in both day-to-day interactions and in assisting with difficult investigations. That makes a cop’s job easier.

Second, that increased trust and respect make it less likely that a minor, routine incident will escalate into the kind of situation that could end up with a cop dead, or with a civilian unjustifiably dead and a cop’s career and perhaps life ruined. That makes a cop’s job safer.

I would think that every cop, and everyone who supports cops, would want that the job to be easier and safer.

So why would Howard Safir so blatantly mischaracterize what’s being said and done in American communities around the issue of unchecked, unaccountable law enforcement? I can only speculate.

Some possible answers: He’s genuinely uninformed in general and uninformed about how social media works in particular. He’s genuinely uninformed about the statistics showing hugely disproportionate differences between how police treat middle-class Caucasians and how they treat African Americans of pretty much any class. He is informed, but he’s locked into an outdated mindset in which rule of the police is absolute, rather than a role of community servant leadership. Maybe he just listens to too much Fox News, whose incendiary, race-baiting rhetoric is deliberately clouding the issue.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Safir needs to put on some clean undies and start asking himself about the best, fairest way to serve the community — the whole community.

That’s all most Americans are asking for.

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