Obama’s Policing Proposals a Small Step Ahead

President Obama yesterday offered some ideas on strengthening community-police relations. His proposals are worthwhile, and they should be implemented. However, they appear to address only the tactics of policing rather than form a strategic reconsideration of law enforcement in America. Much more is needed.

According to Whitehouse.gov, the main points of the plan are:

  • Advancing the use of body worn cameras and promoting proven community policing initiatives
  • Creating a new task force to promote expansion of the community-oriented policing model, which encourages strong relationships between law enforcement and the communities that they serve as a proven method of fighting crime
  • Reforming how the federal government equips state and local law enforcement — particularly with military-style equipment

Cameras are an excellent idea that will protect both the citizenry and the police. Inappropriate actions by officers will be there in black and white for all to see, and accusations of brutality go right out the window when the videotape says otherwise. A new task-force is a meaningless political move that allows everyone to say something is being done without actually doing anything. Reforming the equipping of state and local law enforcement is also a good idea, but it begs the question, equipping for what?


In truth, it is impossible for law enforcement to do its job if the officers don’t have the support of the local population. The police must be trusted. The citizenry must believe that “to protect and serve” is not an empty motto. All too often, the police are perceived to be, and sometimes act like, an occupation force rather than as servants of the people. This is the heart of the problem. The police cannot be simply the biggest gang in town.


In simplest terms, the police must be part of the community they protect. Ideally, the officers who patrol a place would live there. Moreover, they would patrol on foot, able to interact with the taxpayers face to face. And, one would prefer, even in gun-happy America, that most police officers walk a beat without a lethal weapon. This latter point is crucial because knowing that one has a gun on the hip makes a law enforcement officer act differently than if he does not. If all one has is a nightstick, conflict resolution is quite different than if one has a Glock.


That isn’t to say that the police should not have recourse to lethal force, but rather than it should not be the recourse for every officer. SWAT teams and the like are, sadly, necessary in this day and age, but the spread of military-style weaponry into law enforcement since 9/11 makes the chasm between police and the taxpayers seem much wider. De-escalation is what is needed. The argument that disarming the police puts them at a disadvantage holds little water. Most officers never use their guns in their entire career, and having a gun doesn’t make one’s life more secure. A gun simply makes the other guy’s life less secure. Bulletproof vests protect cops, but guns don’t.


Furthermore, America needs to reform its legal system. Legalization of drugs, ending the stupid war on them, would put thousands of gang members and Mafiosi out of business. It would also end the practice of hassling poor kids in the projects because there would no longer be much probable cause. This extends to other victimless crimes.


It comes down to this: America’s police should be respected, not feared. Changes are vital to achieve this.