Another Look

Another Look

by

Ken Melvin

In the wake of riots following the Police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other Black Americans, and Trump’s earlier installation  the likes of Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr as Attorney General; let US Cities find now to be a particularly good time to look anew at what they, the people, think should be the proper role of Police in America. It is time and time to rethink Policing in America. Any and all changes made need be made nationwide, else we would wind up forever dragging around this same Policing Model, a model purportedly somewhat based on some interpretation of the Old Testament of the Bible, a Model with ties to Slavery and Servitude. It is time and time that Policing in America broadly reflects current American values and thinking.

Police being an inclusive term; including all law enforcement agencies.

Much of what we now have was brought forward from 17th Century English Laws premised on protecting the property of the landed gentry, including the Monarch, since modified as required to allow for the added responsibility for public safety, … Today, many Police and Sheriff Departments are Economic and Political Fiefdoms. In December 2019, Barr said, “They have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves, … And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” Safe to assume that Sessions would have agreed. Here we are two generations into the Age of Technology with an Administration out of the 1960s and before. Taking off from Albert Camus’ Absurdism, we past Absurd quite a long ways back. Houston, we have hit bottom.

In times like these, the question must be: 

What should be the role of the Police?

 

 

Public Safety/Security should be a number one priority. People should be secure in their homes, at their places of work, and when out and about. Criminal Activity is a threat to Public Security. The Police should protect the Public from Criminal Activity with a bright focus on Crime Prevention.
Social Order is a requisite for well functioning societies. Non-criminal Behavior outside Social Norms can be a threat to Society. Societies need to take such lawful measures as necessary to maintain Social Order. Now is a good time to decide whether or not the maintaining Social Order is a proper role for the Police. Is maintaining Social Order more of a Constabulary role?

All communities need to have an organized response to Emergencies. For Emergencies such as fires, the Police usually assist Firefighters by blocking off the area, rerouting traffic, facilitating access to other Emergency Responders… In times of large scale Emergencies, the Police may need to coordinate an evacuation, maintain order, provide assistance as needed to Firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, EMTs, …

In many cities, EMTs are part of the Fire Dept. In many of these cities, members of the Fire Dept. are trained as EMTs. We’ve all seen private company EMTs on call in their vehicles in parking lots, in coffee shops, … during slow periods. This is not very efficient. Though these EMTs don’t get paid very well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when they do get a call, the rates for their services are astronomically high, higher still if you are uninsured. They charge us for the dead time. Most Firefighters get paid well, whether or not they are EMTs. We pay the Firefighters whether they are responding to an emergency, sitting, washing their trucks, sleeping, … Better that Firefighters also be EMTs; that EMTs are part of the Publicly Funded Fire Dept.

For Emergencies other that crimes, we often see both Police and Fire respond. It’s good to have EMTs at fire scenes, at Medical Emergencies, at Traffic Accidents, … Police are not generally trained as EMTs. But, in some cities, Police, Fire, and EMT roles are combined. In Sunnyvale, California, for example, the roles of Police Officer and Firefighter are combined. Sunnyvale’s basic training includes a 26-week Police Academy, 18 weeks of Police Field Training, a 12-week Fire Academy, and a 6-week EMT Academy.

A lot of Police Emergency calls involve Mental Health issues. Yet, most Police are not trained in Mental Health. More progressive cities stipulate that, for the calls involving Mental Health issues, the Police must be accompanied by a Mental Health Professional. Should a significant number of each Police shift to be trained as Emergency Mental Health Technicians, EMHTs? It might make for better Policing if a significant and sufficient number of Police were EMTs and EMHTs. Maybe Fire Departments’ EMTs should also be required to take EMHT training. Or, better yet, why not have Mental Heath Professionals respond to Mental Health Emergencies with Police assisting as needed? If Police are to deal with Mental Health issues; let’s ensure that they have the needed training.

Rather than going forth with Policing Models premised on policies that reach back to the 1950s and beyond; we need: Policing Policies that reach boldly forward; Policing that employs today’s technology, knowledge, and best thinking; Police Policies that take the decision making in re Policy away from the most retrograde and hand it to the more enlightened younger generations where it rightfully belongs.

Things currently wrong; things that are not the proper role of Police.

We are asking Police across America to cope with the consequences of inadequate Mental Healthcare and the lack of Economic Opportunity. In a better America with a better Economic Model, these would be taken care of by a better functioning Government. Across the Globe, poorly functioning Governments require ever larger, ever more authoritarian Policing.

Too many of these Police killings, and or beatings, have occurred after a routine traffic stop or other minor infraction. It’s as if the Police were looking for an excuse to abuse their authority. Police should never be allowed to exercise excess authority at any time. There is no justification for Police escalating a minor infraction into a assault. If they have reason to arrest the offender, do so with dignity and respect, then, respectfully take them down to the station. Police need to show respect at all times. The Bill Barrs and Jeff Sessions; listen up.

If someone’s life is in imminent danger, it is justifiable for the Police to use whatever force necessary to protect that life. But, Police have been accorded too much authority. They have been given undue authority to use physical abuse and lethal force. Police response should be proportionate the seriousness of the suspected violation or crime, proportionate the compliance of a suspect. Police shouldn’t have the right to disrespect any member of the public, to subject any other human being to an indignity.

US Policing inherited a great amount of its authority from its English roots. This authority has since been enhanced by State and Federal Supreme Court rulings. A lot has changed, a lot has been learned since 18th Century England; since 19th and 20th Century America. Today’s Policing should be based on what is known in this the 21st Century. In the late 20th and early 21st Century there were US Supreme Court decisions (majority opinion often written by Justice Scalia) absolving Police of responsibility for their actions, or for their failure to act. In 30 Police conduct cases before the US Supreme Court in the past 3 decades, the Court has decided against the Police only twice. The Court needs to revisit some of these decisions, free the Nation of this legacy. Congress needs to address this issue of Police authority.

Two US Supreme Court decisions, District of Columbia vs Heller and McDonald vs Chicago, made it more likely that anyone being stopped by Police might be armed. This has resulted in Police being more likely to draw their weapons, more likely to shoot a suspect. Disarming America would be a positive step toward reducing Police killings.

The concept of Qualified Immunity for Police was introduced by the US Supreme Court in 1967 as a means of shielding members from personal liability for acts performed in the line of duty. Over the years, Court rulings have provided more and more immunity. Today, this Qualified Immunity has become Absolute. This needs to be revisited by Congress and the Courts. To date, Cities have paid out $billions in settlements for Police Abuse claims. Cities have gone bankrupt over these claims settlements. This talk we hear of requiring Police to carry Professional Liability is a way of bringing some of the economic consequences of bad behavior to bear on the Police themselves.

Control and Management of Police Departments is the responsibility of City governments. Police Unions rightfully should negotiate work rules; they should not be making Police management decisions.

In Ferguson, MO, Police arrests and tickets were a source of revenue for the City. For years, before the Interstates, small towns throughout Utah, Arizona, Nevada, … had speed traps. These small towns got most of their operating revenues from traffic tickets given out to travelers passing through late at night. Until recently, the California Highway Patrol operated an exceptionally productive speed trap on Hi Way 95 near Bishop, CA, one with Bishop and the State of California joint beneficiaries. California outlawed speed traps in 1959. If patrol cars had cameras, traffic violations could be recorded and the ticket mailed. Camera equipped drones could record a traffic violation and the ticket mailed. How many of us have been given a traffic ticket for no reason other than the issuing Police Officer was having a bad day. One either can either pay the ticket, or they can take a day off from work and drive 50 miles to court to contest it. If there was a video record, an impartial judge could decide whether a violation actually occurred.

Today, in some southern states, Police enforce draconian laws premised on laws meant for the days of Slavery, laws little changed from their 17th English origins. These Police are a part of Legal Systems that feed Cruel, Antiquated, Corrupt, Prison systems that Market Prison Labor for Fee. Jeff Sessions comes from one of those states. Jim Sessions has shown himself to be incapable of changing his mind about Policing and law enforcement; to be someone not smart enough to change his mind. While the rest of the World has thought anew about Policing and Law Enforcement, Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr would impose their retrograde beliefs in these regards on the Nation. These Southern State Legal and Justice Systems need to be abolished and then reformed along with the reformation of those of the rest of the Nation.

Sheriff Departments across America are growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve gotten the public to fund the doubling of their force size, the buying of lots of new vehicles, and the building of ever bigger jails. The source of this growth? Drugs. Drug use may be up because of lack of economic opportunities, is very bad for Society; but it’s been very good for the Business of Law Enforcement.

The ready availability of video evidence of Police Abuse during arrests, in response to demonstrations, has been transformative. There’s no going back to the good old days when the public was dependent on the media; when the media might choose to not show Police Abuse. Police Unions have too long been successful in keeping Police personnel records from the Public. This is finally, rightfully, changing. Another change that, too, needs to be Nationwide.

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