I have really been mulling this for some time and I’m still not sure I’m where I’m supposed to be. I am sure, based on the appalling events in NYC that things to have to be said. When you have a huge mob parading on the streets of NYC chanting “kill the pigs ” that is unacceptable and should be condemned by any person!
As I’ve written before, yes I do have a biased perspective but so do those who ignore such absolutely gross demonstrations. My brother has served as a Law Enforcement Officer for about twenty years now, he currently serves as a Massachusetts State Police officer. As a Coast Guard Petty Officer I was a Law enforcement officer and in addition, as a reservist for 29 years, I served with many civilian police who were also Coast Guard reservists or other civilian police at all levels of law enforcement. And currently I serve, I hope well, as a police chaplain for the York, Pa. police department. I have way too many brothers and sisters who do a great job day in and day out, who put up with a lot of grief and conduct themselves professionally. I can honestly say that in almost four years of serving as a police chaplain I have been very impressed with the level of professionalism in the York PD. And the professionalism I’ve seen as a Law Enforcement officer and serving with so many others.
I am really trying to impress upon the reader that I would say the vast majority of law enforcement that I’ve worked with are dedicated professionals who serve and protect to the utmost degree and most of what they do goes unnoticed and unrecognized. It really does stink when a Law Enforcement officer does a great job and does it without any recognition, but one misstep is immediately pounced upon and mercilessly prosecuted.
So now that I’ve bent over backwards, I do need to say this. I have also had interactions with civilian police that was just not acceptable. My training always emphasized that my main job was to defuse and contain difficult situations. Bear in mind that when a Law enforcement officer arrives on scene they do not really know what is going on. They have received a general description, that is by now third hand, and they really don’t know what they are confronting. The smart LE officer is going to approach any situation cautiously and trying to attempt to assess what is going on. Sure, if a life is in jeopardy you move to save and protect, otherwise you just don’t rush in. If you’re doing your job correctly your presence should start to defuse a situation, professional demeanor and actions should make anyone involved realize that they need to just stop. Too often incompetent or inexperienced LE rush in without knowing what’s going on and cause more problems then they resolve. People end up getting hurt that shouldn’t have otherwise been hurt.
I have had some personal (non-duty) negative experiences with civilian local LE officers in a number of situations and I have to confess that they have almost all been with older officers, who have been a patrolman for years. I would submit that an officer who hasn’t advanced in years, may already be an obvious subject as to why he hasn’t advanced. I have no doubt that most are hard working, serving men and women who do a great job, but I have run into some who demonstrate straight out an unprofessional attitude. Why does that happen? Too often it has been a situation where it has been too difficult to discharge a police officer, even one who has been a consistent under performer and even has a string of complaints and serious issues. Why? Too often it has been blind Public Service regulations and union action. This whole system has come down to a system that has become adversarial instead of serving the public good. Too often it’s to serve the interests of those who are entrenched in the public service system instead of the public good. That just must come to an end.
As part of the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the Ferguson, Mo incident, one officer has been discharged and two others have been told that they probably will be. I would concede that they may well be victims, no I don’t have inside information, that they may be the scapegoats. But I honestly suspect that these are officers who have had repeated incidents, have not acted professionally, have abused their authority and probably should have been discharged long ago and probably would have been if there had been an objective system to conduct personnel management. I can say as a Coast Guard Petty Officer I was not covered under any Civil Service protection. It is, comparatively speaking, rather easy to discharge and to discipline anyone in the military and that would be especially in a service like the Coast Guard that has so much direct interaction with U.S. civilians. In addition there is an “up or out” system in the military, if you do not advance in a set number of years, you are discharged. I know that this kind of system can work. I don’t have an in-depth experience in the York, PD but I can say they work in a difficult environment and from any other objective source that I know of, do it in an excellent fashion. I would also note that this is a fairly young department and subject to newer rules than many who’ve been serving for many years.
I would be willing to bet that many in the command structure of Ferguson, Mo, wish now that they had made the extra effort to discharge police officers who were too much about them and their ego. Who were too much about rushing in and making rash judgments, having a big mouth instead of making judicious use of methods to defuse difficult situations. Police Dept commands, Civil Service and Police Unions, need to start to think in terms of public service and doing what needs to be done to defuse and control instead of having ego problems and exacerbating situations.
I have had the privilege of working with the “Community Services” department of the York PD and they make excellent efforts to reach out to the community to build positive relationships. It can be done, but as they say in the Coast Guard one “ah poop, can wipe out a couple of dozen of attaboys”. (OK, it’s phrased a little more colorfully), but the point is, you can have the vast majority of a Law Enforcement agency doing a great job, and just one person who has previously demonstrated who does not have the proper temperament to pull a lot of great work down in a heartbeat. Yes Civil Service and Unions have their proper place, but the focus must now be on making sure the public good is being served. If it was a couple of bad apples in Ferguson whose actions culminated in the latest problem, those officers should have been indentified (and they were probably well known) and discharged.
We simply cannot afford any more Fergusons or any other police department that is tolerating incompetence or even outright offensiveness. I am thankful to God that I live in a city where unrest could have easily resulted, but because the local police department has done such a great job on a consistent and long-term basis that trust has been built between the police department and the community. I have no doubt that a lot of destruction and injury was avoided because of the commendable job that has been done. Other communities have to be as pro-active. Get over the excuses and the lack of resolve, it needs to happen, there is way too much at stake to tolerate people who are simply not suitable, do not have the proper temperament and are a crisis just waiting to happen. I’m not saying it’s an easy job, it’s not. But having served in an agency that does do an outstanding job in many missions (the United States Coast Guard), and with a police department that has done and is doing a great job, I know it can be done and it just has to be. Put the egos and the bluster and the nonsense aside and defuse the problem and remember the common good. A lot of different sectors need to heed this.