... the future nature of policing in the United States
To Protect and To Serve
What we understand as civilization is the result of increased occupational specialization. Some grow our food and this leaves others free to build houses. Clothing is manufactured and as a result, some are able to teach. We pay taxes so that our elected representatives can employ specialists to fight fires, build and maintain our roads and ensure that everyone has safe food and drinking water.
And, within each of these endeavors there are a myriad of associated specialists, such that the food grower rarely is the same one who processes, cans, bottles or brings the finished food product to market. The builder is not necessarily the one who designs houses, or fells the trees for lumber, quarries stone or kilns bricks. And other specialists are engaged to inspect the builder's plans so that the structures they make are safe to live and work in.
There is an Old World proverb that states, one must not blame the baker, when the butcher and the candlestick maker bakes the bread.
The premise of this contribution is that the organisation of those whose occupation it is to protect and to serve, will benefit greatly from the increased specialization of policing functions.
It can be argued that many of the problems with modern policing in the United States is that specialization within law enforcement has not kept pace with the need for highly trained specialists to respond appropriately to the all-too-human foibles that contemporary life in America presents.
In a phrase, the butcher and candlestick maker are baking the bread.
For purposes of clarification, all policing can be seen to represent one of two main groups of activities, i.e., low-intensity and high-intensity operations.
Examples of low-intensity operations, include such activities as pulling over motorists for speeding, failure to signal a lane change, rolling stops as well as making a right hand turn on red before it is safe to do so, as would be the case when there are pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Low-intensity police operations include the response to the vast majority of 911 calls, which represent such things as calls from the public reporting break-ins after the fact, stray animals, and noise complaints resulting from triggered auto, home and commercial alarm systems, and the post-game parties with the music blaring that go on well into the wee hours.
There is also a growing number of calls to the police requiring a response which result from the fact that vehicles, car and trucks, have gotten bigger and the parking spaces in our malls and big-box department and grocery stores have remained the same size.
A parent pulls their truck or SUV into one of these woefully inadequately sized parking spaces, and a teenager in the passenger seat sees one of their friends and as soon as the vehicle stops, swings open the door, but the door can only open one-third the distance necessary to exit and not hit the Mercedes parked in the adjacent parking space, whose owner is just returning to their car pushing a shopping cart.
This scenario is repeated every day, many times a day, and the important message for this discussion is that thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars of property damage are caused, and hundreds of hours of police time, with its associated costs. Few mayors in the entire United States have addressed this problem.
These kinds of incidents, along with the scores of non-injury traffic accidents, which result from drivers' momentary inattentiveness (failure to control in police parlance) consume an enormous amount of police resources. And, when we add the acts of larceny, petty thefts, shoplifting, general nuisance behaviors and domestic disputes, these low-intensity response crimes and misdemeanors form the overwhelming vast majority of the kinds of calls to which our police forces respond daily.
Most police/public interactions are resolved by the use of low-intensity response ways and means. The nature of police operations that require high-intensity responses are of a different character entirely, as they represent the possibility that the perpetrators may possess weapons. Robberies in progress, eluding and fleeing, drug and gang activity and the violently mentally-ill, murderers, rapists, are all fitting examples of occasions that may very well require the use of a range of tactics and weapons, including lethal force.
The salient point is that the vast majority of policing is of a low-intensity response variety, and requires the least escalation up the use of force continuum ladder.
While to protect and to serve is easily articulated, it is rather difficult to administer, especially in the American system that guarantees equal protection under law, the presumption of innocence, and where guilt can only be determined by a jury of one's peers.
At the same time, a police force with officers that specialize in either low-intensity or high-intensity interactions and responses would be better able to protect and to serve the public.
If we look at the numbers, it is obvious that the vast majority of policing can be undertaken by gentlemen and gentlewomen officers. The Bobby.
The violent criminal element, on the other hand, will find themselves the object of highly-trained, high-intensity officers, skilled in understanding crime as well as criminogenic behavior. And, whose sole remit is to protect the public.
The problem often arises when the police officer must make a quick and dramatic shift from low-intensity policing to high-intensity policing and then within minutes back into low-intensity interactions i.e., gentle policing activities. It is very difficult after leaving a violent domestic situation to return to the gentle police arts and say, Ma'am I am very sorry, but you were going well over the speed limit and in an area where there are a lot of children about.
Especially, when the children in her back sit are becoming frantic because they sense that you are somehow a threat to their mother, and she cannot give you the attention she ought to because her first responsibility is to see to the needs of her children and calm them down.
When in the highly skilled and specialized police forces of the future, that high-intensity specialist officer would be given adequate time to make the transition from high-intensity to more gentle policing activities.
Service to the public demands nothing less.
As an example of the police force of the future with its low and high-intensity specialist officers, one might well consider (with certain reservations) the English Bobby and the flying-squad. There are many other national examples.