When a profession adheres to strict standards of conduct, everyone wins. It’s good for the members of the profession and those that need to use their services. When a profession spends more time in a near-unconditional defense of its members, however, it’s a sign that things have taken a very dangerous turn for the worst. It’s often a cultural problem with no easy remedy. And it is pervasive in policing today.
The symptoms of the lacking ability to govern their own behavior are prevalent. When there’s an internal investigation into police misconduct, how often is it that a law enforcement agency quickly clears their own of any and all wrongdoing? Often enough that you probably can’t think of more than a handful of cases where some rather obvious misconduct actually get punished. Even the abhorrent action of shooting someone’s pet dog without cause happens often enough that we had to coin the term “puppycide” to describe it. You also rarely see any law enforcement officer criticize a member of their profession, something that is almost unheard of in any other field.
All of this leads to a confidence crisis in the policing profession. There’s no obvious accountability to the public, but plenty of seemingly obvious misconduct. We all know that every profession gets bad apples, but law enforcement seems to place little (if any) visible emphasis on finding, disciplining, and removing them. The growing perception among all political stripes is that cops believe that they are above the law and will face no consequences for violations of it.
This brings us to the latest evidence of this disconnect from caring what the public things: Ferguson, MO. Yes, there has been some looting and rioting. Yes, it must be stopped. But no, the way to handle that is not to bring mine-proofed vehicles, automatic rifles, and tear gas into non-violent protests. It is not to arrest obvious reporters on live television. The police in this city are acting worse than the looters and rioters because they both know better and are charged specifically with protecting the public.
And this is why we have a huge problem in policing. “Protect and serve” is no longer the mission statement. Law enforcement increasingly sees the population at large as a dangerous invading force to be subdued, subjugated, and controlled by any means necessary. That’s how they develop an attitude of “do everything I tell you to do, legal or not”. Frighteningly, few in a position of power to do something about it seems to be willing to stand up and tell them just how un-American their behavior has become.
Cops, if you want the respect of the public, you have to earn it. And it will not come from the heel of a boot or the barrel of a gun.