6 Ways Policemen Can Regain Credibility With The American Public

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This article was originally published on August 13, 2014 on returnofkings.com, here.

My previous article, “Why Americans Should Reconsider Their Contempt for Today’s Police,” was well-received in the law enforcement community, but not so much on Return of Kings. I only wished to begin a conversation, and perhaps it worked.

Ultimately, everyone would benefit from a better understanding between the police and the public, and neither side can afford to sacrifice the cooperation that is necessary to move forward. As some cops and some members of the public move toward the fringe, fueled by social media and their cozy echo-chambers, the relationship could deteriorate beyond repair. Then what?  I think a cop who claims that all cops are heroes and that the solution is to make more arrests is as ridiculous as the anti-cop that claims that all cops are pigs and the answer is revolution.

With that being said, I would like to challenge law enforcement to look into the mirror and reflect on what we may be doing wrong. I know cops have many thoughts on this, even though it is not discussed at roll call or FOP meetings; primarily because our out-of-touch administrators are more worried about their bottom line and retirement and focus more on risk management than any sort of valuable reform. Many of you question the same things about our institution, but with no forum for it to be discussed, nothing is addressed and nothing gets changed.

Let’s face it, we all know the government, especially the Federal Government, is out of control and working against the best interests of the people. The public is waking up and challenging the system that we are unfortunately a part of—and that is a good thing. Don’t take it personally. We have to suck it up and realize that we are the tangible government, and therefore we are going to catch the initial heat from the public as their eyes continue to open.

Remember, this concept is still new to them. The public will eventually figure out that videotaping a cop that pulled them over because they were speeding is not going to bring Eric Holder up on contempt charges, or impeach Obama. Eventually they will also realize that it is their responsibility to change any law they see as unfair, and not expect the police to selectively enforce laws. And when the public truly seeks reform, they will direct their contempt at the politicians and “leaders” that actually run the show, yet have somehow remained exempt from the ridicule and harassment we often face. In the meantime, let us consider some changes and reminders to help come to an understanding with the public that we are simply local crime fighters acting on behalf of a common morality and not the government.

1.  Study the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

You swore to protect it. That oath may have seemed ceremonious, but it was certainly the most important and practical directive you agreed upon. Study the Constitution and see what should separate us from the rest of the world. Understand that the inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence are not privileges, and that the Bill of Rights does not just permit free speech, journalism, or the right to bear arms; it encourages them—and for good reason.

The Constitution was written by men who wanted to ensure that a wayward government fears the power of the people. Remember this when you are watching the news and shaking your head in disgust like everyone else, and when you get to work, be mindful of your position and how you can collaborate with the will of free people who only wish to remain free.

2.  Do not let the media exacerbate the nanny state

Most citizens don’t need you. There is a large population of people who can take care of themselves. I’m not saying that they take matters into their own hands necessarily; only that they simply take care of their own problems and are smart and skillful enough to get through a day without the protection or advice of the police.

I cringe when I see a cop on the local news giving viewers tips on driving in the snow, firework safety, or other general common sense advice. We are not parents to a childlike public. Any self-reliant person undoubtedly rolls their eyes when Officer Friendly reminds them to “reduce your speed when the roads are icy.”  To be fair to cops, it is the media that requests these interviews. The media usually wants a soundbite to fill some programming gap while appearing helpful and providing a service to their viewers. Cops hate to do these interviews, so I recommend declining them.

3.  Realize that you cannot control crime

The term “first responder” says it all; we respond to problems. We are not “crime stoppers.” We can’t be. When departments do act as “crime stoppers,” they need to station police en masse like they do at special events or areas of repeat violent crime, and they can’t merely respond; they need to already be there. Although a heavy police presence at special events like the Super Bowl is sometimes understandable and viable, it is certainly not possible or wanted everywhere all the time.

But if crime is not the burden of the police, then who carries it? The community. Public safety is contingent on the conscience and values of a community, not the power of law enforcement.  Unfortunately, when crime is high in a community, half of the community begs for a police state while the other half condemns it, and we are always viewed simultaneously as too aggressive or too passive.  How can we ever win?

So when your over-reactive police administrators demand crackdowns and heavy police presence after a rash of gang related shootings, take it with a grain of salt. Don’t blame yourself when a few drug dealers robbed the wrong guys and end up dead or shot. You don’t need to frisk every guy that walks down that street and start taking people to jail for trespassing because they are standing outside of a building that some slum lord gave up on years ago.

We need to stop making ourselves 100% accountable for weak, state funded communities. If anything, it is the Feds that are responsible for these communities. The Feds are funding the crime and irresponsible cultures that plague crime ridden communities—and with our tax dollars!  It is rather absurd that the states and cities have to tame the beast that the Federal Government feeds, strengthens, and at times, incites.

4.  Dethrone the “drug cop”

When it comes to patrol officers, the type of cop that gets the most credit for being “active” and doing “real police work” is the “drug cop.”  He or she is the cop that chases down the drug dealers, recovers their stolen firearms, seizes their money and cars, etc. Most young cops look up to the “drug cop” and mirror them. The allure is understandable; drug investigations are the fastest and easiest way to get into some action as most dealers usually run from police who then give chase.

It is easy to measure the productivity of a drug cop. How many grams of heroin? How many thousands of dollars? These are all numbers they yell to each other when finishing up their paperwork at the station so that everyone can hear how awesome they are. But if these drug cops just stopped and looked around one day, they would see that all their hard work and close calls didn‘t really change anything. The drugs keep pouring in, and the buyers keep pulling up. However, drug enforcement does have its place since the only people who have ever thanked me for saving their lives were addicts that I arrested, but leave that to your vice unit. Let them do the drug investigations and monitor the violence surrounding it.

Instead, keep your eye out for real victims. Get out there and break up a burglary ring, protect property, figure out who is breaking into all those cars, identify that guy robbing people downtown, try to get someone’s stolen car back to them, ask around about that unsolved homicide from four years ago. Whatever you do, let the public benefit from it.  Drug work is a quick game where you want to catch the mouse and the public doesn’t pay you to play games.

Drug abuse is a cultural problem. There is nothing the police can do to address the insatiable American appetite for illicit drugs. Local police agencies need to stop pretending that this is a problem they can solve. Perhaps when the police step back, communities and their churches, businesses, medical facilities, etc. will strike that critical balance between charity and capital to address the drug problems of their own sons and daughters.

5.  Take off the sunglasses

I know this is not 100% fair, but everyone hates a cop in sunglasses. It’s just the way it is. Although sunglasses are practical, when you wear them at work and in uniform, they evoke mistrust and suspicion. I brought a pair to work several years ago when I began working second shift and I felt like Agent Smith from “The Matrix” when I talked to people and I probably came across that way too. I never wore them again. Nothing is more effective than good eye contact where a citizen can see how genuine you are and a bad guy can see how serious you are. And while you’re at it, tell your buddies to leave the tactical gloves and bluetooth earpieces at home as well.

6.  Live within your means and stop burning yourself out

A police officer is still a blue-collar job. Yet for some reason, many cops want to live the life of a Google executive. They are building $300,000 homes and buying $40,000 trucks on a base pay that tops out around $55,000 annually. They make ends meet by working tons of overtime and outside employment details. The money is well-earned, as they work very hard for it, but the cost makes it way down to the public when they get burned out and the exhaustion makes for a bad attitude.

Cities are only making the problem worse. Hiring freezes have emerged throughout the country in the last few years while at the same time, tons of cops are retiring. This of course means fewer cops on the payroll. The city’s solution is not to hire more cops, but instead to provide overtime to already exhausted, burned out cops.

Cops are not immune to the failure of Americans to know their place in society. Many of the rugged crime fighters of yesterday that traded shots of liquor in the local hole in the wall are being replaced by softer babbitts sipping wine poolside at their oversized home. Loaded with debt, many cops are enslaved to the job. They will find it hard to step out of line or challenge injustice when they cannot afford to.

So live within your means. Don’t back yourselves into a corner, and by the way, look a little closer at your pension system. There is a lot more money going out than coming in. Do you see that carrot dangling before you? It is rotting.

United we stand

It’s understood by now that the system’s primary tactic to control its people is to divide and conquer. The more they can get groups to clash and fringes to spread, the more the system can step in to take control. If the public and the system’s law enforcers can both make concessions and come to some middle ground, the system’s orchestrators will begin to lose control and perhaps the organic human relationship that the nation once knew will emerge again. Everything is to be gained from mutual cooperation; be very suspicious of those on either end that work to ensure a divide is drawn.

Norman Rockwell Cop at Counter w Boy

Henry Calgues

Henry Calgues

Henry Calgues is the new pseudonym for "Anonymous Cop."
Henry Calgues

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14 thoughts on “6 Ways Policemen Can Regain Credibility With The American Public”

  1. I’m very late to get to this article (must be all that overtime I am working!) but though I don’t agree with everything here (Never gonna totally ditch my sunglasses…my glare-sensitive eyes wouldn’t stand it, though I readily take them off on citizen contacts when that human touch is most important: since my promotion to detective I notice myself doing it more) But the points about Drug cops and drug enforcement are spot on, as well as the argument for community responsibility for crime. Keep up the good work, bro.

  2. I don’t agree about drug enforcement. I know you wrote a generalization, but many small depts do not have “vice” units. And your only front line defense are patrol officers. All cities aren’t plagued with robberies and burglaries every day and not so to help clean up your city, drug enforcement may be a big advantage.

    1. Also seems like this stand would come from someone who cannot produce the numbers of some “drug cops” and want to put down their work so they don’t look lazier.

  3. Great article. Although I disagree with you drug cop analysis. Drugs are a huge issue in this country that are many times tied into burglaries and robberies. I have had most of my cases where burglaries and robberies are drug related; either addicts trying to get something to sell or drug dealers taking money without giving the dope. You can’t just let Vice handle the drug stuff because they’re not the ones with their ears to the ground. The road dogs are, and we are the ones who give Vice the tips and Intel from our stops or arrests that Vice uses to make their bigger cases. Just my 2 cents.

  4. Good post. However, I believe his views about narcotics arrests are false. Where I work, most of the burglars are doing so to get money for a drug habit or at least use drugs as well. It is difficult to catch someone in the commission of a burglary, but catching them with drugs is easier. Either way they are off the street.

  5. To all of this, I’d add: Treat the citizens you serve with the same respect that you expect to receive from them.

    The NUMBER ONE problem the public has with cops is their arrogant, I’m-mightier-than-you attitude. Not all citizens are bad eggs. Stop treating them so disrespectfully, and watch things turn around overnight.

    Finally, I implore cops to root out the ego-trippers in their midst that make everyone’s job harder. When a teenager spits into the cheese vat at Dominoes, and posts video of his deed online, Dominoes responds immediately and persuasively by stringing him up. “This fool does not represent what we stand for!” Similarly, the good cops need to make an example of the bad ones who are embarrassing the entire profession. Until you stop protecting your bad apples we have every right to assume you’re not serious about how the public sees you.

    Being a cop is a very hard job. It takes a special type of person to do it. If someone wearing a badge lacks the inner strength and humility to do the job properly, he needs to find another profession.

  6. This was so great I am going to share it on my FB! My brother is an officer in Alaska and I have been pushing back against the waves of uninformed easily manipulated “friends” that see the “media cop” portrayed everyday- they don’t seem to get that they are being used and lied to by the news and the politics of America. This is a wonderfully well written article. You should do a magazine article for the Paper, wherever you are- people need to hear this stuff.

  7. Not a bad article. You are wrong about the drug arrests though. How do you think heroin addicts support a 2 or 300 dollar a day habit? Getting them off the street lowers other property crimes. As far as the dealers- I don’t know about your city but where I live nearly all of the gun battles/raging violence is also connected to dealers fighting each other.

  8. Very well written article. I have expressed these same concerns to officers throughout my career.

    I hope that many officers take these words to heart. I will be sharing the article.

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