Does everyone hate us?
I met with an officer last week and we had a long philosophical discussion about policing in America. The discussion kicked off with a statement of despair, “Everyone hates us!” It is getting harder to argue against this concern. It is also becoming more difficult to promote law enforcement as a career. This breaks my heart. For nearly 28 years (16 as a police chief), I have poured my heart and soul into this job. It is more than a job, really. It has been a calling, a lifestyle, something I have lived and breathed. Now I find myself questioning everything, including my career choice. Despite all of this, I deeply love what I do. I love my community. I love my team members. I have an opportunity each day to give back and learn something new. As a peace officer, I pray each day that I am able to serve my community with passion and compassion. I pray for wisdom, courage and strength. I also pray that my team members stay safe and that they are able to go home at the end of their shifts to their families. What we do as peace officers is complicated. It is also dangerous.
Law enforcement is one of those jobs where it is difficult to make everyone happy or meet everyone’s expectations. On any given call, someone will be satisfied and someone will be unsatisfied. Sometimes, because of the nature of the incident, we cannot make anyone happy. When it comes to critical events, we want our police officers to be Delta Force trained fighters, with a PhD in psychology, and a master’s degree in social work. When it comes to salaries and compensation, we want to pay cops as if they are blue-collar workers with no education or training expectations. We analyze every move our cops make but we sometimes forget the cop had a fraction of a second to make their decision and we have the luxury of 20/20 hindsight.
Do not get me wrong; sometimes cops make horrendous mistakes. The death of George Floyd was beyond that. It was a crime, and those responsible should be held accountable. What we do not see are the countless times when the officers get it right. What we rarely see are the good deeds our law enforcement professionals perform each day. We should try to remember that for every questionable act we see on video, hundreds of cops are doing great things in our communities thousands of times per day all over this country. Please do not lose sight of this. What happened in Minneapolis is not representative of all cops.
So what should we do? Quit blaming law enforcement for all that is wrong with society as a start. It seems whenever things go poorly in our country, we always pile on the cops. We are visible representatives of government. It is easy to scapegoat us. It is much harder to work to find viable solutions for our problems. I believe social justice reforms are necessary and long overdue. Defunding the police is not the answer. We ask our cops to do too much. Our police departments are understaffed and underfunded now. Our police professionals need more training and more time to do it. Our police professionals are under compensated and over worked. They are tired. They want your help. They need your support, now more than ever.
What else should we do? We need to fund properly social service agencies. We need more mental health and crisis services. We need specialty court services, like drug courts, so we can divert people from the criminal justice system. We need to treat alcohol and drug addictions more like medical problems and less like criminal problems. These services also need to be available 24/7. They need to be available during a pandemic. They have not been. Crisis events happen at 3 a.m., they happen on holidays and they happen on weekends. 911 should be the call of last resort when families are struggling with a child who will not behave. 911 should be the call of last resort when someone wants help finding treatment for their drug addiction. 911 should be the call of last resort when mental health services are the true need. Social and crisis services should be quickly available in our communities, and they should be carrying more of the load. These are not supposed to be law enforcement responsibilities, but during my career, our politicians have consistently cut these programs and have left law enforcement holding the bag. Law enforcement should have been the last line of defense for these social problems. We have become the only line of defense. I have watched as politicians have pushed forward disastrous restructuring plans of social service agencies. They have cut funding for these programs to the bone and failed to listen as our communities have asked for more help. Law enforcement has protested these changes and funding cuts. We have consistently advocated for more social services in our communities. Our pleas have also fallen on the deaf ears of bloated government bureaucracies and career politicians looking for a quick fix to problems that have existed for decades. Let us finally discuss the needs of our communities and the services they are looking for. Let us quit asking law enforcement to be the solution for every problem.
We all need to figure out what we want from our police departments. I am proud of my profession. I am proud of the people I work with. Certainly, there are things to improve in the law enforcement profession. We need to have high standards of conduct. We need to hold bad actors accountable. We need to focus on community outreach and relationship building. We need to remember as police officers, we work for you, the community member. We need to respect all people and we need to work with our community to make sure all people have equal access to and treatment by the justice system. Our system is far from perfect. We can be better. Working as a united people, we can make positive changes that will benefit all of us. There is too much division in our country. We can change that by being willing to listen and learn from others, especially those who for far too long have not had a voice in our society. Poor people, and minorities, are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. All of us must stand up with courage to have the conversations necessary to push forward the reforms that will address these disparities.
Now back to the original statement…“Everyone hates us!” No, they do not. I know they do not. I am blessed to call Marshalltown home. I know Marshalltown supports her public safety professionals. I know we are a strong community, and through our diversity, we will find a way to lead the way for a better tomorrow for all who live, work and visit here. We can fix problems in our society by working together, by listening and by loving our neighbor.
Mike Tupper is the Marshalltown Police Chief. Contact him at 641-754-5771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.