With over four decades of law enforcement and government service, it frequently becomes difficult to hold my tongue when speaking about law enforcement/community relations (just ask my lovely wife, Pat).
On day three at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Academy in 1975, our class learned of the work of Sir Robert Peel, who was twice the Home Secretary and twice Prime Minister of England in the 1800s. He is also credited in 1829 with the formation of the model most modern police forces in Europe and the United States still use today, when he formed the Metropolitan Police Force for the 32 boroughs of London.
London at the time had experienced great distrust of both government and the police. The city was experiencing an increase in crime and disruption, and no one felt safe.
Sir Peel was a bright guy, instead of vast books of specific policies, he used just 12 principles of law enforcement in dealing with his officers and the public. It starts with the notion that “the police are the public and the public are the police”. We in law enforcement are the friends, neighbors and family members who are gifted by our community with providing those services that make every part of our country safer and more secure, But everyone at every level of society has a role in making the community safe and secure.
Sir Peel said the police cannot seek or preserve public favor by catering to public opinion. That is so true! We must faithfully and Impartially discharge our duties every day, without regard to how people feel about a particular law or set of laws. Our police must be willing to sacrifice their individual lives and opinions to defend and secure all lives and property and they do this every day for all of us, because that’s what we do.
Sir Peel called on all citizens to voluntarily observe and follow the law. Doing so means that law enforcement officials shouldn’t have to escalate any situation beyond “persuasion, advise and warning,” (his words). But he also made it quite clear that when the degree of cooperation diminishes, to the point of physical injury or worse, law enforcement can and must use only the force necessary to overcome such a threat and return the community to a safe place. There was a time when everyone understood that if you violated the law and you escalated the event to one of danger (say, by pointing a gun or knife at the police or fellow citizens, or physically assaulting them or someone else), you were likely to be injured and most definitely going to be arrested, and we didn’t blame the cops or demand that the offending party get some payment of tax dollars to make them feel better.
Sir Peel also understood the need to police the police. He demanded that his folks went out every day and every night with the idea that they needed to follow their training, policies and practices and that overstepping or heavy handedness led to a breakdown in the trust the community placed with the police.
I tell all of you that to remind all of us of this: reviews of all police situations need to be thorough, transparent and the lessons learned must lead to better trained and confident officers, which in turn fosters closer more appropriate relationships with all members of our society.
We don’t have to like the police (although it’s great when we do), but we must allow them to do their jobs in the safest and most legally effective manner possible.
Those in our law enforcement community know that when they personally error, there will be appropriate consequences. We live to a higher standard and work every day and night with that knowledge and most of us do so with an exceptional level of pride.
However, the community also must hold all its citizens to the standards put in place as laws for everyone’s good. Period!
We are a nation of laws and civility and mutual respect. Waiting to see how a law enforcement executive and their elected officials investigate and then learn and grow from all negative contacts with citizens is a must. Remembering that we are in this community together is a must as well. Don’t break the law, either as a citizen or a law enforcement officer, and don’t take being a positive member of society lightly either. When you do break the law, expect to be treated with respect. However don’t think that having your friends and family take your side means a court of law isn’t going to see it differently and impose on you the sanctions placed in statute for the greater good of all of us in the village.
Our kindergarten teacher was right, “Treating everyone with the same level of dignity and respect we all wish to receive” is very true and much needed today. It has no color, ethnic persuasion or orientation.
It means all of us will do our part to keep interactions positive and appropriate with each other, and we all pledge to both support all citizens as well as our police and live a life of happiness and prosperity.
Have a meaningful dialog with a cop today. Go ahead, ask them why they joined or stayed and why they continue to place the needs of society above that of their own. The number one answer to the Police Entrance Exam Oral Board’s question, “Why do you want to join law enforcement?, is, ”I want to help people.” It was true in Sir Peel’s time, it’s true today, and it will be true 100 years from now.
The police are the public and public are the police. Simple, basic, important for our country and for each one of us and our families.
Let’s get back to being the village Sir Robert Peel wanted us to be.