Dirty cops 7/9/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Author’s Note: More information has become available regarding the police shooting in Ohio to which I am referring in this post.  The suspect had been shot an estimated sixty times, which is very excessive and difficult to explain.  However, the author stands behind the sentiment expressed here.

Several Ohio police officers have been placed on paid leave as they investigate a police-involved shooting. Honestly, I don’t have enough information to know how to feel about this incident. According to what I’ve read, the man they shot tried to evade them in a car chase, shot at them from the car, and took off on foot before being shot. There are many people angry about the shooting, but if these facts are true, then the police had reason to believe that this person was a danger to the public, armed and willing to shoot at them. In my mind, this would make the shooting justified, if tragic.

There is a common thread in our society today to assume the police are bad. To be fair, there are very bad police. In New York, they had to shut down an entire precinct some years ago because every officer in it was bad thanks to an initiation and purging system they had developed. The job of police officer does have a certain appeal to narcissists, power-hungry thugs and people who would abuse the position, but it also has an appeal for officers who truly want to help others.

Some years ago, I was having lunch with a police officer who told me how he had been speaking with an elementary school group earlier in the day. He was proud, he said, that he took the job because of the service to society he provides, and that every action he takes, if it’s arresting somebody, writing tickets, or any of a myriad of other actions is always to protect the innocent. One student asked about writing a ticket for expired tags.

He told me that that was one thing he couldn’t explain as a manner of protecting the innocent. The reason I remember it is because he seemed more upset by this relatively minor aspect in his career more for his own piece of mind than the fact that he had no answer for the student. “That’s easy,” I replied. “The money for the license tags go toward road repair, safety signs and services to protect drivers and passengers.” His eyes brightened up immediately as it seemed to resolve this seed of doubt in his own mind.

Are there dirty cops? Yes, of course there are, but every police action is not necessarily evil, and we have to be careful not to condemn all police officers on the actions of the few that we do hear about. There are roughly seven-hundred-thousand police officers in the US, all making dozens of actions each day, and yet, how many of these actions do we hear about? If somebody is shot by the police, especially if they are killed, of course the family will always believe it was unjust. Who wants to believe that their own son was ready to shoot another person, even a police officer? It makes for better sales if the news reports suspected police wrongdoing than not, so surely part of the problem is also the press.

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, EVERY police shooting should be investigated, especially by an independent entity, and yes, every shooting found to be criminal should be prosecuted. But the court of public opinion should not be where these officers are tried. But extrapolating these actions, even the criminal ones, to decide the entire police organization is tainted and evil is no more fair than it is helpful.

The reality is that we do need the police. Yes, of late the police authority has extended too far and they have had their budgets fattened by tasking them with social services for which they are not prepared. The term “defund the police” was unfortunate, and no doubt there are many who assumed this meant a complete dismantling instead of simply bringing back social protection programs on both sides of the spectrum. But to actually dismantle the entire police organization would leave us with two options, either policing by citizens with the biggest guns, or turning the US into a military state, neither of which is palatable.

We need more social protective services. We need a larger police oversight organization responsible for investigating police shootings. We need to bring back strong and viable social programs to deal with alcoholics, homeless, runaways and a plethora of other issues that turn into emergency calls. Let the police focus on policing, and lighten their load with better qualified people, and maybe we’ll see fewer police shootings, fewer crimes as people get the help they need the most, and maybe we’ll all be better off.

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