Franke: What’s Happened with the Police?
by Mark Franke
Senator Elizabeth Warren pronounced recently that the police in Ferguson, Missouri, were guilty of murder in spite of the fact that a grand jury and the Obama Justice Department exonerated them. No matter to Sen. Warren, who has a propensity to play fast and loose with the truth. Witness her claim to be American Indian even though she isn’t and has no objective reason to think she is.
This started me ruminating about the state of police and policing in our republic. Something is not right.
Growing up in a small town in northeastern Indiana, my only involvement with police was to occasionally see them and wave. We didn’t have our own police force but a county deputy lived in town and took care of things, when things actually needed taking care of. Mostly this was to admonish rambunctious juveniles to head home before he called their fathers.
I know, I know. That was the 1950’s, the most perfect decade in human history. Things are different now.
The police motto used to be “Serve and Protect” with the emphasis on serve. Police would come to your school, talk about bicycle safety and leave with a friendly wave. Police actually smiled back then.
What changed? When was the last time you saw a police officer smile?
The typical police officer today is dressed in black or dark blue with bullet-proof vests, carrying multiple weapon belts and usually glaring at all and asunder. Maybe this makes sense in crime-ridden metropolises, but in suburban and small town Indiana?
I like to take my young grandchildren up to police officers and introduce them, telling them that the police are their friends and will always help them. But not if they’re outfitted like they are being deployed to Iraq. Will that visage frighten them of the police?
I have a friend, a retired police officer, who said he wouldn’t want to be on the force today and have to wear “all that.” Yet he recognizes that times have changed and with them so have the threats. He said police used to know who the troublemakers were but never were concerned that they might be armed.
He’s right. The physical threats have increased exponentially, in my opinion due to a culture that has anesthetized itself to violence. Movies, video games and 24 hour news all push this. Too many politicians and news commentators point to the police as the problem when it fits their “narrative.”
A troubling number of conservative voices, those which typically would support the police in most situations, are expressing concern over the militarization of the police. They are not the extreme libertarians but thoughtful people concerned about preserving liberty.
How have we come to this?
I wouldn’t want to be a cop these days so maybe we are being too hard on them. They are always in the wrong, at least in the opinion of Sen. Warren and her fellow travelers, and probably receive viable threats to their safety most every day. The Philadelphia police recently experienced just such a situation.
Yes, things have changed and not for the better. But not with all police officers, thank God.
I have season tickets to my hometown’s minor league baseball team. I use a favorite parking space in an abandoned lot near the ballpark, favorite because it is free. But this requires crossing a very busy downtown street to the get to the nearest gate.
On duty at that intersection is a city policeman, working to keep pedestrians safe. He is friendly to the point that I always stop to have a word before proceeding into or out of the ballpark. We talk about the weather, the game, grandkids, whatever.
It is obvious that his emphasis is on the serve part of “Serve and Protect.”
He retired earlier this month. I will miss him, due in large part to the fact that he hearkens back to a more innocent time. Rose-colored glasses? Maybe. But at 68 years of age, I am entitled to wear them.
I am also entitled to give gratuitous and unsolicited advice. For all the police working to keep us safe, it is this: When you see young children, smile. You’re going to need all the friends you can get in the coming years.
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.