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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cops Should Get Closer to The Communities They Protect

Clermont, Florida Bicycle Unit
© Clermont News Leader
A Better Law Enforcement Model?

The recent spate violence directed at cops is indicative of a real problem with how we conduct law enforcement in the United States. One liberaltarian pundit in the Huffing and Puffington Post recently suggested adopting the fire department model of policing - sit the officers in stations and only go out if someone calls for help. He seems to have forgotten that (1) while this guy wants citizens to defend themselves, he also periodically calls for cops to take everyone's guns away so they can't shoot bad guys while they are waiting for a squad car to mosey on over from the police station downtown. And (2) in the fire department model, the house is often pretty much burnt down by the time the fire department arrives. Not good when you're talking about crimes in progress.

Yet undeniably there is a rift going on between cops and citizens. Cops have their defenders and with good reason. Dig up YouTube videos about cops and you'll see plenty acting heroically, with kindness and compassion. You'll see a few jerks too, as in any representative group from any profession. Cops have always been like that. So why do relations between cops and the communities they serve seem to be worsening.

I blame the police cruiser for the citizen/cop divide. 

Don't get me wrong. The cop car is an essential tool in law enforcement, moving cops to crucial choke points in any crisis and helping them keep up with and apprehend criminals. It's just that, at one point, cops walked a "beat". His beat was his neighborhood. He often lived in that neighborhood neighbors thought of him as the neighborhood's personal cop. Citizens felt a kind of ownership of him. Also, by being on foot and walking the ground he was charged to defend, the cops knew more intimately what was going on in the neighborhood, they could head off problems more effectively AND they were more approachable by ordinary people. A cop on a bicycle or on foot is much more approachable and far less threatening. Once cops became ensconced in patrol cars, it became necessary for them to be constantly on the move (and apparently eating donuts).

This isolated cops from those they were assigned to protect and created a schism between citizens and police officers. In Tyler, Texas they once tried putting bicycle cops in neighborhoods. The project seemed successful and actually lowered crime. A lot of the guys I talked to in the program really liked living and working in their neighborhoods. But older more sedentary cops, used to having AC and riding around in cars insulated from the elements were against the idea, I supposed for fear lest the idea expand and force the rest of the patrol officers should have to suffer mounting their ample posteriors on those skinny little bicycle seats.

You could, of course, solve the problem of resistance to the idea making bicycle cops more highly-trained, more highly-paid elite officers with higher rank, more independence and trust and perhaps better tech and less paperwork than ordinary cops. You could use the squad car officers as backup based at local storefront police stations where they could enjoy their donuts and coffee in peace. Then the only cops driving around all day and burning expensive gasoline, would be traffic cops and you could put them on motorcycles for that job. We could save money and reforge alliances between cops and the communities they protect.

In Cleburne, Texas, near my old hometown, they tried a summer program where they put their young handsome officers on bicycles in shorts to cruise the area around the parks and schools. One bright PR guy made up collectible baseball-type cards with pictures of these young hunky cops and their stats to pass around the schools. The idea was that kids would recognize the officers and know the names of the cops patrolling their neighborhoods.

It was a really wonderful idea. The high school kids were a little disrespectful of the cards, as you would expect, but the elementary school kids ate it up. The young handsome cops also developed a loyal, if quiet, following among teenage girls in the neighborhood.

I think cops need to be closer to their communities rather than isolated from them because the nature of their job is so much more intimately involved with the public. Throw in some customer service training, some PMAB training, psychology courses, special weapons and tactics and martial arts skills training and you would crated a cadre of elite highly-skilled officers who approach the job from a protect and serve attitude and who, like SEAL teams, earn respect, not just from those they serve, but also from their fellow cops.  Along with that, you of course, have to bust cops who don't get it and keep falling back to the bully and intimidate model of law enforcement. But, with highly trained role models, I think it would work really well and lift the quality of law enforcement teams across the board.

Here's a great video of a cop friend of mine, Ralph Buckingham of Tyler, Texas PD taking skateboard instruction from skateboarders at the local skate park. This is the kind of close up work cops should be doing, building relationships with the people on their beat.  This is what I'm talking about.

Just one man's opinion,

© 2016 by Tom King

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