Police Culture

The mariner is befuddled by the response to confrontation between a policeman and any adversary, that is, kill/harm first, ask questions later. While the conflict between races receives news coverage, it is more than race. It is a different attitude primarily by the policeman but includes an expectation by adversaries that in any confrontation one may be killed and therefore a defensive attitude escalates the situation.

When the mariner was a youngster, a policeman had a walking route in neighborhoods with retail centers. The policeman knew shop owners, would check alleys, visit with citizens on their stoops (A Baltimore term for front steps) and generally knew who the troublemakers were and where they lurked. The attitude of the policeman was not assaultive by nature. Is this just a Norman Rockwell moment? No, it actually was that way sixty years ago.

What elements of our culture changed so much that the role of policemen became a civilian National Guard complete with armor, military vehicles, military cannons and other heavy ordnance, and a strike force mentality.

Perhaps it was many things.

More individuals are able to purchase guns simply because all forms of retail (legal and illegal) move more rapidly today than sixty years ago. Further, the weapons are no longer 22 And 38 pistols but automatic weapons, explosives, and the ability to organize criminal events via cell phones and social platforms on the Internet.

Crime used to be a nationally based issue, for example, the mob and extended crime families. Today, crime is an international issue dealing with drugs from many countries using elaborate armies of mobsters similar to those in Mexico and South America with arsenals and strike capability better than many nations. Stateside criminals receive indirect armament and intelligence from international syndicates – it must be said that arms manufacturers are a source and fight mightily through the National Rifle Association (NRA) to block any legislation related to types of arms and registration.

To help cover law enforcement budgets, the Federal Government provided to law enforcement “no strings” grants through its Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program. Without direct oversight, heavy armament and riot equipment was purchased far beyond the need of any law enforcement agency. It must be a macho thing for a small city police department to own an Abrams battle tank. Obviously, police departments chose overkill to overstaffing.

It always has been the case that a policeman is trained to quickly stop a threatening confrontation. Years ago, when the mariner worked with police training academies, emptying a pistol was not the first solution – as it appears to be today. Even allowing the use of techniques that would quickly kill an assailant was not routinely encouraged. The example being the strangle hold on Eric Garner in New York where Garner died in the process. The mariner is puzzled that the Grand Jury did not vote for a trial in this case. The video and the Medical Examiner’s report clearly presented arguable information.

Nevertheless, each incident clarifies that the role of a policeman has changed from maintaining social order to inciting social disorder in the last several killings that have made the news in such a short time.

Guns of any kind are too easy to acquire and underlie incidents from mass murders in schools and religious institutions, to robberies ending in unnecessary gun killings.

Those who want to satisfy fear in their personal lives have run out to purchase their own guns. While emotionally gratifying, more guns in anyone’s hands only acerbates conflict that ends in unnecessary killing and wounding of people. Truly horrific and emotional documentation abounds. The issue is to straighten out the cultural and legal rules that govern our society. Perhaps we need controlled access to weapons and more policemen who want to manage peace with conversation rather than incite conflict and fear.

Ancient Mariner


3 thoughts on “Police Culture

  1. You know how I feel about the modern constabulary, but I have to posit: the UK has famously polite police and fewer civilian firearms than the U.S. by an order of magnitude … and an appalling crime rate by comparison.

    British subjects have comparatively few civil rights (in the form of meaningful limitations on police power), yet their criminal justice system is notoriously ineffective – despite the UK having basically invented what we would consider modern law enforcement. But those were rougher times, when money bought justice directly and every Briton carried a revolver or two. Perhaps the principles of Victorian civil order are relevant to our current situation?

    I definitely agree with your sentiments regarding the disposal of contractually obsolescent materiél to civilian police departments (and I firmly believe that American police ARE civilians, regardless of what their egos and the media would have us believe, and that this is an important part of our democratic heritage and something that makes the common-law system worth a damn). And I am equally puzzled, and concerned, by the blatant militarization of U.S. police agencies in the midst of a profound multi-generational decline in our index crime rates. “9/11 Never Forget” I suppose. It does suggest a constabulary whose purpose is less one of maintaining the peace (collar the thief, ticket the speeder, identify the rapist) and more one of political availability (lock down Boston, herd the population into the Super Dome, look the other way on Wall Street and legal marijuana).

  2. This oft-misquoted slip of the tongue by the late, great Dick Daley seems relevant:

    “The confrontation was not caused by the police. The confrontation was caused by those who charged the police. Gentlemen, let’s get this thing straight, once and for all. The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder.”

  3. The mariner appreciates the depth of your comment that policemen are civilians, too. Were that they felt the same. The mariner has known dozens of policemen and every one held themselves superior to the public but bound to the status quo. Every one pledged allegiance to the “thin blue line.”
    However, public expectations, accrued by the policemen as well, have been ramped up to military authority by Federal misappropriation, electronic games, television and the brazen nature of organized crime.
    Though cynical, the comment about maintaining disorder is genuine. If the culture is disorderly, who can be otherwise?

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