Blue Line


April 2, 2012  By Tom Wetzel

No matter how the Trayvon Martin tragedy shakes out, it is clear that for too many African Americans, their relationship with North American police officers is sadly still based on much suspicion and mistrust. Despite so much progress, it seems like a small crack of a possible action or inaction from a single police officer or agency can quickly burst onto the national scene causing a torrent of anger and frustration.

But regardless of whether the Sanford police department dropped the ball on this investigation shouldn’t stop the law enforcement community as a whole from some self reflection on our current mission and how we can improve our level of service particularly to our customers who have historically been subject to discrimination and bias.

The Police model has experienced plenty of changes and advancements throughout its history and now is a good time for a paradigm shift that allows for a deeper connection between the “server” and the “served.”

A four prong approach that brings more officers in the classroom, regularly re-evaluates our drug policy, looks for new patrol strategies and provides more transparency may help establish the right elements for a transformation model built on trust that keeps our officers safer and better protects the communities they work in.

  1. Cops as teachers

Encouraging officer participation in more educational opportunities can build trust with young people at an early age. Cops already help teach children to look both ways before they cross the street during Safety Town as well as warn them of the dangers of drugs in DARE programs.

I attended my son’s DARE graduation this year and it was obvious that every child knew who “Officer Bubba” (Ptl. Tiim Kerzisnik) was. He and other DARE officers have made tremendous in-roads into building confidence with young people on how to address peer pressure and handle a variety of challenges they will encounter while growing up. Expanding on these efforts to include teaching more children about the risks of the Internet as well as instructing teenagers on the dangers of drunk driving and the consequences of social media can strengthen the special relationship cops have with kids. Also, the value of school resource officers is vital today as these men and women can grow from protectors to friends.

  1. Question our drug policy

This is not intended as an argument on the legalization of drugs but it is time to evaluate just how successful or damaging this effort at controlling drug use has been on the members of our society and how our resources should be further spent to eradicate this problem. Cops have been on the front line of our nation’s drug war and many of them have lost their lives bravely battling this scourge. More of their insight can help develop a strategy that evaluates when treatment takes precedence over incarceration and what can we do to decrease the demand.

  1. New patrol strategies

Deeper consideration needs to be made to new and unique patrol strategies where officers serve where most needed. One approach worth considering is saturating neighborhoods with a high volume of police personnel where crime is out of control. Unfortunately, some residents will resent this special attention comparing it to a police state but plenty of those trapped in neighborhoods that are literally controlled by gangs may not. Cock roaches run when the lights get turned on and thugs who prey on people may react the same way if they come under the blue glare of trained police officers.

Adding cops can cost money that many poorer municipalities may not have available. But those cities who do have money should be willing to share an officer or two for short periods of time. This is not as difficult as it seems because many cities already have mutual aid contracts that allow them to assist each other when necessary. Also, officers from a variety of agencies get assigned to federal or county task forces where they serve a larger audience.

Richer communities must recognize that this is a good return on their tax dollar because criminals are already spilling over into their neighborhoods from crime ridden areas. Control bad guys there and they may see less of them on their streets.

More foot and bike patrols can go along way in helping officers connect with those they protect and serve. Both styles of patrol can be effective in stopping certain types of crime and increasing field intelligence. Trying to find new and more effective patrol strategies should be a regular effort of any police agency and it should solicit the views of those it serves when doing so.

  1. Transparency

Whether it involves complaints against officers or the status of investigations, more transparency from police leadership could really make a difference in building citizens’ confidence in its public servants without compromising these investigations. There are certainly times when quick answers are not available but there are other times that police have a good idea about what happened and can provide information about the progress in a case. People know that they can’t get all the information right away but if they are constantly told that a matter is under investigation, some may begin to feel that something is being covered up.

For cops, trust is power. It is both the foundation and the framework of a successful mission of service and with it, officers can prevent more crime and better protect people. Trust can enhance the symbiotic relationship between the server and the served which is why it is the most important tool on any officer’s duty belt.

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