In this age of information, scrutiny of the police seems to have reached an all-time high. Since news and videos often seem to show negative police events, it can be easy to forget that these are the same people who committed to serve and protect the public.
Police aren’t blind to this increased attention, and there are some key things they want the public to know. From protocols to industry failures to a desire for change, here’s what police officers wish people knew about their jobs.
They Are Well Aware Of The Anti-Police Climate We’re In
Lieutenant Bob Kroll told Reader’s Digest that fewer people want to become officers because of the scrutiny they face. And according to an Iowa state trooper, officers receive more threats than they used to.
Officer Jay Stalien recalled a time when he pulled over a woman, and she drove an extra two blocks before stopping. When questioned about it, she said she wanted to make sure she was in a well-lit space for safety. It dawned on Stalien that some view police officers as the bad guys now.
They Get Mad At Officers Who Abuse Their Power
Officer Nakia Jones says that watching videos of police officers abusing their power has made her feel like leaving the force. It has both saddened her and made her angry.
She released a video that went viral, in which she urged officers who are afraid to talk to people of different races to take off their uniforms. She spoke against the superiority complex that some officers have, saying that they do not belong in the industry if that’s how they feel.
They Need Proper Training
Dr. Eric Quarles, author of Police Need Help Too: Steps To A Successful Career, insists that it’s hard for an officer not to develop a superiority complex. “On an individual basis, we have more power than the president,” he argues.
Quarles warns that giving young people so much power can easily go to their heads without the right training. The Police Foundation President and Police Chief Jim Bueermann echoed this sentiment, insisting that there’s a need for better communications training to help officers avoid physical force.
They Need More Women
Police Chief Jim Bueermann admits that his team agreed that there should always be at least one woman on their SWAT team, whom he calls the “den mother.”
He asserts that women help balance out some of the testosterone surging through male officers, especially since cases of brutality are often committed by males. While females aren’t guaranteed to be good cops, having a team with more diverse officers benefits everyone.
Cultural Differences Complicate Things
Eric Quarles stresses that many officers struggle with dealing with cultures outside of their own. He recalls a white officer from rural Oregon who he worked within a mostly black city. He said that people struggled to understand him and that “he was like a fish out of water.”
African American officer Jay Stalien says that he’s “viewed as some kind of traitor” for joining the police force. Understanding these cultural differences is a vital part of diminishing conflict.
Communication Is Key
Eric Quarles says that being a police officer has taught him that listening to people can significantly help the situation. He says that he can reduce conflict by “[letting] off the gas a little” and listening more.
Former Sheriff Sue Rahr calls a new unit in Tuscon, Arizona “remarkable” for their handling of mental illness cases. The officers approach these people in ordinary clothes and build rapport before serving them their involuntary commitment orders. Of the 1,500 orders this unit has served, only two required the use of force.
Officers Have Feelings, Too
On an anonymous blog, Chicago police officers reminded readers that they aren’t “automatons,” and that seeing people at their worst has an impact. Officers spend decades seeing abuse, neglect, and other deplorable scenarios.
As one officer put it, “We were going to change the world. Unfortunately, the world changed us. We’re more cynical, more guarded, less trusting.” Nakia Jones adds that the anxiety someone feels during a police encounter is something the officer also feels.
Many Officers Care More Than You Might Think
Nakia Jones argues that officers are negatively impacted when they take physical action, to the point that some can’t return to work afterward. She states that most officers don’t have to take extreme action at any point in their careers, so if and when they do, it can take a major toll on them.
Conversely, retired police chief Rex Caldwell says that he always asks his policing classes whether any of them has ever given money to someone in need while on duty. Whenever he asks, all hands go up.
Appreciation Helps Restore Their Faith
Lt. Bob Kroll, who is the president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, says that officers report being thanked regularly by citizens. Anonymous officers on a blog wrote that being thanked by parents and victims is one of the things that “restore our tattered faith in human nature.”
Another anonymous officer wrote that the best part of the job is waving to a kid and getting a wave back. Showing appreciation to police officers beings a spot of joy to their often dark days.
The Public Doesn’t Often Hear About The Good Cops
Nakia Jones makes the point that “[t]here are officers of all races doing good deeds every day, things that the public doesn’t see or hear about.” Sue Rahr agrees that there are thousands of positive stories about officers helping out their community.
She gave an example of an Iowa police officer who bought a single mother a car to replace her totaled one. While the news often informs the public about poor policing, the media don’t often praise officers for acts of goodness.
Not All Officers Are The Same
Not all police officers agree with the actions of other cops. Eric Quarles says he gets frustrated when an officer doesn’t try to talk down someone and instead jumps to harsher measures because of the person’s race.
Nakia Jones insists that many people hate police officers. “It doesn’t matter if we’re black or white; they say, ‘You all wear blue,'” Jones reports. If we don’t want officers to judge citizens based on their appearance, shouldn’t we also keep an open mind about officers?
Sometimes Officer Cliques Are To Blame
Eric Quarles explains that sometimes the “good” cops aren’t able to rat out the “bad” cops because they aren’t aware of what they’re doing. He explains that the police force has subcultures.
The officers who stick to regulation tend to hang out with others who do the same; those who like to push the envelope stick with those who won’t question them about it. The closer that these cliques become, the less likely it is that someone’s misconduct will be reported.
Sometimes The Laws Are To Blame
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri states that in certain cases, the legal criteria for giving a ticket rather than an arrest is often harder to meet if you live in a lower socioeconomic area. That’s because the requirements include stable employment, community ties, and assurance that you’ll show up in court.
Someone who is impoverished may not meet these requirements, but that doesn’t make them more of a criminal than someone who does. Certain laws can sometimes make police officers appear more biased than they are.
Being Connected Helps
Sue Rahr compared a case of police brutality in Tulsa to one in Charlotte to show how important relationship-building is for the police force. Where Charlotte saw riots, Tulsa was relatively calm about similar news.
Sue believes that the difference lies in how connected the police department was with the community. Not only did the Tulsa department release videos right away that showed exactly what had happened, but they were also heavily involved with local churches and black leaders.
They Want To Exist Outside Of A Crisis
Mike Davis, chief of police at Northeastern University in Boston, commends departments who look for ways to connect with residents outside of a crisis. He says that his former police staff in Minnesota created a Cops ‘N’ Kids Fishing Tournament.
The officers would fish with 100 kids each year, creating a fun interaction that changes how police are viewed. These sorts of encounters would make it easier for a community to view one officer’s poor misconduct as separate from the entire police force.
They Want To Inform The Public
Jay Stalien warns that a major factor in cities rioting is a lack of information. He stresses the need to explain police procedures and to release details to the public. Another way to better inform the community is via the use of body cameras.
Nakia Jones says that most “good” officers are in complete support of body cameras because it would show the public what they go through each day. These devices may also provide a way to hold officers accountable.
Body Cameras May Have A Dark Side
While body cameras may help enforce the rule that great power comes with great responsibility, they may backfire. Some officers worry that they may encourage criminals to act out for an audience.
Other officers wonder if a body camera might limit the amount of help they receive. An anonymous officer in Massachusetts told Reader’s Digest that bystanders sometimes helpfully point police in the right direction during a chase. That could change if people fear being recorded.
Some Departments Are More Successful Than Others
You may have heard the justice system being referred to as “broken,” but consider the fact that there are just under 18,000 different departments that comprise this system in America. Some police departments are more successful than others.
Taking the procedures of one department to create a new standard would help raise the bar to better serve communities. As officer Mike Davis points out, “There are departments doing it right, and departments doing it wrong.”
There’s A Reason They Delay Releasing Videos
When a complicated issue arises, the most obvious answer is to look at the video footage. Sometimes it can still be hard to see exactly what went on due to the angle, quality, and more, which can result in a more confusing situation.
Police chief Sean Gormley stresses that releasing a video too early can taint the witnesses. Anyone who watches the video will naturally form an opinion, which can alter the way they remember the events.
This Is How You Should Respond When Pulled Over
When officers pull you over, they are immediately on alert for danger. There are a few things you can do to signal to the officer that you’re not a threat. Chicago police officers on an anonymous blog suggest turning on the dome light if it’s dark.
Then, roll down the window and keep your hands on the wheel. If the officer asks to see your license, registration, etc., mention to them where they are before you reach for them. Finally, try not to make sudden movements. Working with officers to assuage the situation can be beneficial for both parties.