Future of Policy Work in America and the Causes for Civil Unrest
Robert J. Hewitson
State College of Florida
Alleged police misconduct has been on the forefront of the news media, resulting many times in civil unrest, which have included full-blown riots, and even assassinations of law enforcement officers. Whether from the media or from personal experiences, these incidences have changed public perception of police officers, but where to begin? Is it the media’s fault, or is there unchangeable bias among police officers and citizens? Do citizens need to change or are there training options for officers to make a difference in the issues, and what does this say for the future of law enforcement?
Public perception of law enforcement is a direct relation of people’s opinions from their own personal experiences, or from experiences that they have learned from friends and family members. Research has shown that, instead of focusing on the conclusion of their interactions with a policy officer, a citizen will give positive feedback when they feel they have been fairly treated and with respect, even if it results in a citation. In addition, when a citizen perceives that their interaction with law enforcement was a process of fairness, given an opportunity to voice their concern, and treated kindly, they are most likely to assume the officer is trustworthy, and provide cooperation in the future (Perceptions, 2014).
On August 9,2014, Darren Wilson, of the Ferguson Police Department, responded to a call involving Michael Brown, who had just left a convenience store where he stole a small amount of items and pushed the store clerk aside as he exited the building. When Wilson arrived on the scene, he confronted Brown, but Brown reacted by reaching into the cruiser, and punching Wilson in the face. During the controversial matter and highly publicized through the media, Wilson claimed he was unable to reach for a less-lethal weapon when he decided to draw his sidearm when he shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown. Immediately, local authorities, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, promptly initiated a criminal investigation. Investigators collectively examined the areas of over 300 residences, reviewed cell phone history, and social media records. In the end, they found that the actions of Officer Wilson were not in violation of federal law, which prohibits the use of deadly force found to be “objectively unreasonable”, and the Department of Justice stated that the case lacked merit for prosecution, and should be closed (Department, 2015).
Similar to Ferguson, one of the biggest struggles between the police and the public stems from encounters in recent years on the deaths of blacks during confrontations, and the igniting of protests that have resulted with law enforcement. Another struggle is the effect of current fatalities from encounters between officers and blacks has been the rise of desire for officers to wear body cameras so that interactions with the public, recorded for documentation (Mitchell, 2017).
A Pew Research Center poll, released in January of 2017, concluded that out of nearly 8,000 of our nation’s law enforcement officers, two-thirds feel that encounters of black Americans, ending in a death, are isolated incidents and not an indication of extensive issues between police officers and black citizens. In addition, 80 present of the officers feel that the public perception is misguided, and that they do not comprehend the risks and challenges the officers face on a daily basis with their job. Fifty percent of officers reported that they have concerns about their safety, having admitted that high-profile deaths have changed the way they do their job. More than 70% have become more apprehensive when confronting a suspicious person, while nearly 75% state that they are more hesitant to use force when necessary (Clement, 2017). Interestingly, a nine-month study of news coverage from five precincts located in New York City, revealed that in the absence of any major scandals, the media did not have any significant effect on public perception (Perceptions, 2014).
A recent policing philosophy that exists today, which differs significantly than it did as early as 30 years ago, shows that community policing serves as significant philosophy and standard for American policing. Previously, the professional model was similar to that of a military model, in that professional police administrators held the position that “getting close” to citizens could lead to corruption, and eventually caused the relationship between officers and citizens to become disengaged (Gaines, 2012).
With the demand for change, police departments understand the importance of being proactive, and many departments are beginning to take new looks at community policy, while large departments such a Chicago and New York city have made strides in taking action based on review and research of evidence. As an example, some departments have experimented with addressing change by implementing workshops designed around implicit bias. Police psychologist, David M. Corey, PhD shares, “We don’t know how to lastingly change implicit biases, particularly those as robust and prevalent as race and crime—and not for lack of trying.” Corey believes that implementing protocols, instead of addressing bias, could be helpful in the short term, however, he believes that with change in the hiring process, could result in a more effective way to reduce some of the racial differences (Weir, 2016).
Today, as police departments attempt to resolve conflict, they are influenced by cultural diversity and now consider citizens of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Recognizing the diversity in different neighborhoods, while understanding the duty and accountability they have for maintaining these values. Instead of applying the same techniques and strategy across the board for all areas of their jurisdiction. In the end, our law enforcement has the responsibility to identify problems, but provide solutions. In other words, the actions taken by officers should be as a direct result of citizens’ needs. When every neighborhood, regardless of culture and ethnicity, receives an acceptable level of police services, only then can both law enforcement and citizens maintain a healthy relationship (Gaines, 2012).
Clement, S., & Lowery, W. (2017, January 11). Survey reveals disconnect between police and public attitudes. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/survey-reveals-disconnect-between-police-and-public-attitudes/2017/01/10/65b24f3a-d550-11e6-a783-cd3fa950f2fd_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d533063028efDepartment of Justice Report Regarding the. (2015, March 04). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/doj_report_on_shooting_of_michael_brown_1.pdfGaines, L. K., & Worrall, J. L. (2012). Police Administration (Third ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning
Mitchell, T. (2017, January 11). 6. Police views, public views. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/01/11/police-views-public-views/
Perceptions of Treatment by Police. (2014, March 18). Retrieved from https://www.nij.gov/topics/law-enforcement/legitimacy/Pages/perceptions.aspxWeir, K. (2016, December). Policing in Black & White. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/12/cover-policing.aspx