07 Jun 2020

Thoughts about the power of life and death.

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Yesterday, in my township, I went on a protest march. At least 500 people participated. The crowd was diverse: old and young, black and white, masked and unmasked.

The local police used their cars to line the streets we walked; other officers mingled with the crowd and elbow-bumped with many.  A popular state senator made some short and sweet remarks. Then, we marched from the park where we had gathered up the main road to the parking lot of the police station and formed a circle. The police chief spoke. I didn’t like when he expressed regret and outrage for the conduct of “4 bad apples, who were a disgrace to their badge and their profession.”  (I wish that he had lamented a archaic system that is at fault, more than those 4.)

Next, we all knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in a gathered silence, all of us bathed in the spirit of the times,  thinking of how long it takes one man to kill another by kneeling on his neck. I was brought to tears. We stood, and marched back to the park.

I started thinking about how the police have been given the power of life and death. I am a nurse, and as a health care professional, I have the power of life and death over the strangers who are my patients.  I am responsible to give the best care to all, regardless of creed or color. I can be hurt or injured by my patients, who may be hallucinating or psychotic. I put my heart into my work. Just like the police, right?

One can not be licensed as a nurse without at least 2 years of education after earning a high school diploma; I have had 4. Others with the power of life and death require extensive education too. Chiropractors and clinical social workers and medical doctors and midwives and psychologists all require years of education, and then must pass a state licensing examination to earn the rights and responsibilities that go along with the power of life and death.

I wondered for how long are the police educated. They have the power of life and death. They are responsible for those whom they serve. They can be hurt or killed as part of their work taking care of strangers just as can a midwife, nurse or physician.

A police officer applicant has to have a high school diploma, some (but not all) departments require an associates or bachelor’s degree. While there are bachelor’s, masters’ and doctoral programs in law enforcement, not all departments in the US require them. The most current statistic I could find (2015) is that  “an estimated 15 percent of police departments had some type of college requirement, including 10 percent that required a two-year degree and one percent that required a four-year degree.” https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/lpd13ppppr.cfm

A police officer applicant next has to take some examinations: a physical examination, a polygraph exam, and a written exam. All this information comes from the first hit on a Google search:  https://folawenforcement.com/articles/how-long-does-it-take-to-become-a-police-officer/.

This same website provides links to on-line courses to help the applicant through all the entrance examinations, just as do other professions. Here’s one about preparing for the polygraph test. I didn’t know that one could prepare for such a thing; maybe we should all take this course? https://www.sgtgodoy.com/online-store/#!/Mastering-the-Polygraph-&-CVSA/p/76121209/category=18084148&forcescroll=true

Take this course to:”Learn how to minimize your chance of “falsely failing” your Polygraph or CVSA exam. These “truthfulness tests” are unreliable and very stressful for everyone. This natural stress can cause honest people to FAIL the exam and miss getting hired.”    If the polygraph test is unreliable, why is it being used?  Does this course teach a candidate how to suppress their feelings and thoughts to give the “right” answers to important questions?

Col. K. L. Williams PhD, a career police officer with over 30 years experience, who has trained thousands of police officers in a course called  Racially and Culturally Biased Policing,  says that if the higher ups don’t support an officer reporting a situation of biased policing, the complaint won’t go anywhere and that officer stands a chance of being demoted or transferred. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgOThRTv250 Col.Williams says that police culture must evolve with respect to race relations, where “everything stopped in the 1950s.”  He agrees with the statement that “On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.” https://www.vox.com/2015/5/28/8661977/race-police-officer

Col. Williams is eloquent about the problems of police culture. https://instituteofja.com/, starting with its attitude that if you have a choice between being loved and being feared, pick being feared. That attitude does little to build positive relationships with community.

Here’s some ideas for change.

I wish that police departments would not be receiving military materials from the Department of Defense; if the tools are around, folks will want to use them.

I wish that funds given to police departments were distributed  between officers and teams of credentialed community workers: animal control, mediators, mental health experts, psychologists, and social workers. These community workers would be far better equipped to deal with situations of domestic violence, mental health crises, cats in trees, and misbehaving school children than an officer with a high school diploma and 6 months of training. Policing is in itself an art and a science; police officers have enough to do without being asked to be mediators or mental health workers.

I wish that all fundamental police education included about bias and racism courses and that each officer would be required to take Harvard University’s implicit bias test for their own personal growth. Bias and racism education should come from agencies and organizations who are specialize on the topics.

I wish that all police departments would have at least 35% of officers be of the ethnic and racial make-up of the communities that they serve. This seems to be the tipping point for best policing practice.

I wish that communication mechanisms would be set up between communities and police departments, for regular contact and conversation to build relationship between them.

The time is right for change. I am contacting my local legislators.

What will you do?


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