Are The Police The Bad Guys?

My cousin is a police officer.  He is tall and broad and in his body armor and SWAT uniform he is even bigger.  He is an imposing, badass, fast-moving mountain of law and order that makes all sane people want to put up their hands and come quietly.

If you saw him working you would only really see a small part of who he is though.

You don’t see the tiny baby I held in my aunt’s house when he was only a few days old.  (I know, I have trouble believing he was ever so small too, and I was there.)

You don’t see the man who stood in church in a tuxedo on his wedding day, held his mother and cried.  After 2 cancer battles I don’t think any of them really believed she would ever see that day.

You don’t see the proud pictures of his small son’s baseball games he posts, so happy his boy loves baseball just like Daddy.  You don’t see how much his 3 kids love him.

The American police force has a big problem.  A small number of officers have abused the public trust badly enough and often enough that they have severely damaged the American people’s ability to trust that the police will do the right thing.

If I may, I’d like to offer some suggestions for the police AND for the rest of us on how we might rebuild trust.  The trust that goes both ways.  Suggestions from a member of a formerly-revered profession that has been taking its own lumps lately due to medicine’s inability to admit mistakes, embrace quality improvement and police its own.

Be serious about holding bad actors accountable

As a member of the medical profession, I know there are bad doctors and nurses and other practitioners among our ranks.  If you are a police officer, I call bull$4!+ if you try to tell me you don’t know there are bad cops out there.  Lazy, sloppy, egotistical bullies that have no business tarnishing our professions.

What are your unions doing about it?  I don’t pretend things are perfect in the medical profession but we admit it and we’re trying to make progress.  We can’t expect the public to trust us if we’re not trustWORTHY.

Admit mistakes and take steps to improve

A worker on the assembly line at a Toyota auto plant can pull a switch and stop the line if he sees something is wrong, for the safety of his coworkers and of future drivers of the cars being built. We need to empower EVERYONE in the most complicated and dangerous industries in America to be able to speak up and call attention to problems that arise.  We need everyone to be part of the solutions.

A continuous quality improvement mentality and zero tolerance for errors are needed.  Layers of safety precautions and standardization are helpful.  The public needs to SEE that we’re taking the problems in our professions seriously.  A police officer shooting an unarmed person by mistake is more visible than a surgeon leaving an instrument in the abdomen or a pharmacist mixing the wrong dose of medication, but they are all avoidable tragedies.

Be human

You police officers go right on being threatening and badass to the bad guys.  That’s not the time to be warm and fuzzy.  But for law-abiding citizens and particularly children and teens, you are the good guys, right?

Attend parades and community functions in uniform and give out hugs and high-fives.  I read about a local township police force that “ticketed” kids found riding their bikes with their helmets on properly with coupons for a free ice cream cone at the local scoop shop.  Be friendly.  Be familiar.

Many police forces have active social media pages.  Get busy and show your officers doing the awesome things they do.  Highlight the K9 officers.  Snap pics of the less glamorous things like messy desks and mounds of paperwork, funny coffee mugs and office pranks.  Be human and show the human face to the people you serve.

What about the rest of us?

For the rest of us, we need to teach our kids that the police are the good guys and how to interact with them.  As a doctor I can’t imagine how much harder my job would be if my small patients’ parents taught them if they were bad the doctor was going to give them a big shot and it would hurt A LOT.  How many of you parents tell your kids if they’re bad the police will come take them to jail?  If they’re in trouble how likely are they to run to find an officer?

My son is fourteen and in a few years he will be driving (YIKES!!).  It’s my job to teach him how to respond if he is pulled over by a police officer.  I’m not going to trust that driver’s ed will teach him everything he needs to know.  He knows he’s not a bad guy, but the officer doesn’t know that. It doesn’t really matter that his skin is light instead of dark.  Bad guys come in all sizes and colors.

With the way things are lately, I’m not surprised the police have trouble believing everyone isn’t a bad guy.  Every traffic stop could be their last.  I see end-of-watch notices with heartbreaking regularity on social media.  Why would anyone in the world want to be a cop?  The same reasons people choose to go into medicine: to serve, to help people and to make our communities better, safer, healthier places to live.

I hope we can, as a society, get over our tendency to oversimplify things.  This isn’t about black vs. white, cop vs. civilian, good guy vs. bad guy.  Each one of us is human and every life lost is a tragedy.

My cousin is a good guy.  I love him a lot.  The next time you’re tempted to look at the police as a faceless wall of black or blue uniforms, remember each one has a family and a story that you don’t know.  They signed up for the job of protecting you from bad guys and seeking justice for victims of crime.

Doctors who hurt patients need to be punished.  Cops who hurt innocent people need to be punished too.  Both professions need to be accountable to the public we serve.

QUESTION:  What are your thoughts about the current state of things between the police and the communities they serve?  What can be done to improve the relationship?

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One thought on “Are The Police The Bad Guys?

  1. Our granddaughter is a Dallas police woman and has been for 12 years. I agree with everything you said. I am just glad she is safe. Police are not the enemy.

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