It’s Time To Rebuild Police From The Ground Up
The killing of George Floyd ignited protests across the country demanding an end to what is perceived as institutional racism and systemic police brutality.
Promises to implement new policies and pledges to hold police officers accountable fall from the lips of politicians. For all too brief a period, police officers do face prosecution from election-minded district attorneys mindful of the public mood.
Inevitably, time passes and public attention shifts elsewhere. Once the spotlight is off, the impunity with which police officers operate returns.
Something is irretrievably broken in our current system of policing and no amount of cosmetic tinkering is going to fix it.
It’s time to reconsider who can become a police officer in the first place, what level of education that person needs to possess and how to ensure that there is an effective system in place to monitor them once they are on the job.
Put bluntly, it’s time to strip policing down to the studs and rebuild again.
It’s worth noting the awesome power society gives to law enforcement.
Police officers have the statutory right to detain an individual and take away their freedom of movement. They can infringe upon a person’s bodily integrity by restraining them by way of handcuffs. Nowhere is the power of the state over the individual more manifestly present. The police officer has the opportunity in that moment to inflict pain, humiliation and life-ending violence if that is their decision – or desire.
Should we not then ensure that individuals holding that much power over another person are the best, brightest and most highly capable? Can we ensure that those individuals have the education that allows for a holistic approach to maintaining public order rather than – as is too often the case with some – being hammers who view every suspect as a nail.
Those in professions that also have direct impact on the lives and well-being of their fellow citizens – take law or medicine as examples – have to go through many years of education at the university level before they are even permitted to attempt to join the ranks of those in their chosen field.
No less should be expected or demanded of those wishing to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Candidates should be required to have a base-level undergraduate degree from a four year accredited university followed by specific and directed graduate study not unlike the demand places on doctors or lawyers. Universities, in consultation with community stakeholders, must develop a standard curriculum that would include full semester courses in human psychology, history of racial injustice, the effects of generational economic disadvantage on behavior, mental health and the unique challenges that the LGBTQ+ community continues to face every day.
Knowledge of the penal law and criminal procedure is not enough.
In a country as diverse as the United States, citizens have the right to demand that only those elite individuals able to successfully exhibit the highest level of personal ethics and professional preparedness are even allowed to become police officers.
Once the education is complete, there needs to be a statewide body that grants the individual a license to apply to enter a career in law enforcement. This would allow for independent, standardized and uniform oversight. It would allow for continuing education to be mandated and monitored for the entirety of a police officer’s career.
It would also be responsible for disciplinary matters and complaints to be heard and evaluated in a forum removed from the individual police departments who, too often, are concerned with protecting their own members rather than the public they ostensibly serve.
Then and only then should the now duly-licensed individuals be allowed to apply to enter the specific academy training of whichever police department they seek to join.
A covenant of trust must exist between the police and the community it serves. Unless there are profound and systemic changes instituted nation-wide then that covenant will crumble into the kind of chaos that threatens us all.
Gavin MacFadyen is a writer and lawyer living in Jamestown