Perspective in Politics: Current policing strategy has polarized the public

WALT STONEBURNER [(CC BY 2.0)] / FLICKR
Trust is the key to ending police violence

When people talk about the police, the subject of police brutality often comes to mind. Eight years after the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, cases of excessive force at the hands of police continue to reach national coverage. Despite years of research and deliberation, the debate remains polarized and stagnant.

The main impediment to any widespread solutions is the question of how to mend relations between communities and the police. All sorts of strategies exist to try to build trust. There are attempts to create racial diversity in the police force and get the police to talk and get along with community members. These are worthy strategies, but they have not brought the end to police violence that many people demand.

A lack of significant policing changes encourages many to turn to more extreme demands, like calling to abolish all police. This argument may sound perplexing to some, but in communities where repeated studies demonstrate racial profiling and excessive force used by police, it seems that such communities would be better without them. Public trust in the police has been incredibly low for the last several years, and it doesn’t help when stories of police being acquitted — or not charged at all — for unjustifiably violent force circulate across social media.   

On the other hand, your perspective of the police may not be too negative if you live in a quiet town where physical crime occurs only on television. If you have a local business in Ferguson, Missouri. that was ransacked by angry people after the acquittal of Officer Darren Wilson, you might have a desire for police to treat widespread theft with greater force.

Current policing strategy prevents any real appearance of protecting the public. Police have for a long time become notetakers, only reacting after a crime has occurred. In my experience and others, they show up an hour after a house is burgled and complain that they lack the resources to even find the criminals. What people claim prevents crime — the widespread security cameras — is more of a way to identify suspects rather than discourage people from committing crimes. The police who ride around in their police cruisers are looking for criminals but divert too much of their time on conducting traffic stops and giving people tickets. If the public doesn’t trust the police’s authority, then law enforcement can’t do their job of protecting the public even if they want to.

Tactics that have been implemented to prevent crime have simply widened the rift between the police and the public. The broken windows policing theory, an attempt to stop future severe crime by policing low-level offenses, has just encouraged widespread jailing and criminalizing — mainly of minorities — for crimes as insignificant as jaywalking.

The only way to properly change policing strategy for the better is to come up with a way to build trust and prevent crime at the same time. Law enforcement will have to do more than talk with locals at a Starbucks to gain their trust. Cops must not view themselves as non-civilians and must act instead as important community members. They must not think of their jobs as strictly combatting crime, but rather as a mix of social work and neighborhood watch. Rather than just hiding in their police cruisers, there’s an incredible need for interaction with regular people. The police must show that they truly care about the area they serve, as they’re now part of the people that inhabit the neighborhood. Trust takes years to build, but if the police can take that first step in reaching out, the public can eventually change its opinion of law enforcement to a more positive image.

 

Written by: Justin Chau — jtchau@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.