– By Lisa Broderick
There is a crisis of policing in this country. It’s not just the elephant in the living room—today it is the living room. It’s in every American living room: media stories, citizen iPhones, body cams. In the wake of the death of George Floyd and so many countless others before him, the crisis of policing in this country has reached epidemic proportions. And it’s not so much police tactics—although many would point to that and with good reason. Other countries employ in practices much like the US for their police; just recall the images of Chinese officers tamping down protesters in Hong Kong over the last 12 months. The difference is that those countries have somehow solved the riddle of deadly police force far better than the US. For example, according to the FBI, about 1,000 police officer-involved deaths of citizens occur every year, while in other developed countries the police may not be involved in even one police-involved death of a citizen in a year.
Why is this we ask ourselves? Explanations range from the fact that Americans are largely armed, that our roots are in rugged individualism , the popularization of the spirit of adventure policing careers, the deployment of technology in the 1990s in the place of community policing and being on the street. But those issues are not what this article is about. Given where we are at this moment in time, how can we solve the crisis of policing?
I believe that the current crisis of policing in this country requires a quantum leap in our thinking—something that is so aspirational, that it is so radical that it will actually change police culture. That disruptive idea is the notion of going back to our roots as PEACE OFFICERS. It’s profound when you finally see it.
If we go back to the fundamentals, what is the real name for cops? They’re “peace officers”. That’s what the law usually calls them. PEACE OFFICER is the one unifying notion that all cops are tied together by. So how do we actualize this as a nation? One way is using the ethos of PEACE OFFICER for our police and sheriff’s deputies: To prevent conflict; If there is conflict, help resolve it; diffuse situations; and aid the defenseless. Police officers are in our communities to intervene and defend the defenseless. That didn’t happen for George Floyd and that’s inexcusable. And I feel, preventable.
Now that we’re no longer turning away from the problem we need to develop a solution for why police-involved deaths of citizens keep happening and develop a national strategy to address it. I believe that a cultural shift in the policing paradigm from recruiting and hiring for the adventure of policing, to returning to our roots found in our penal codes that call cops PEACE OFFICERS is a good start. It makes the responsibility of police enforcement the facilitation of peace in the community. Further, what is needed is for departments to have organizational alignment around peace officer, which includes messaging, training, and reward systems because we have to have consistency in actions with the symbolism of peace officer. If the only tools we give cops are nightsticks and guns, then we shouldn’t be surprised that they are going to use force and end up killing people. We have to give them other tools: resilience training, de-escalation training, community outreach programs, and technology. We can re-shape policing in this country into transparent, rightful and non-fatal using the notion of PEACE OFFICER.
Lisa Broderick is Executive Director of Police2Peace