When Hollister’s chief of police took the job, I gave him my personal rating system for the city Police Department; number one was community relations. The primary reason is my observation that poverty breeds violent crime and that the same poor people are the primary victims of those crimes. Overwhelmingly, poverty is concentrated in minority populations; the “why” of that will have to wait for another discussion.
Like many other choices, once you start in a life of crime it’s very hard to stop, so keeping young people out of that life, or putting them on the right path when the stray, is actually crime prevention for the future. Good community relations are the key to the prevention function.
Law enforcement has the function of preventing crime, gathering evidence, apprehending suspects, and acting for the legal system; since they fight crime they often see high crime areas as enemy territory. I know that is not PC, but let’s not pretend terms and ideas like that do not exist. The point is the police often feel like they are the front line troops who must protect themselves. The old saying is, “I’d rather be judged by 12, than carried by six.”
Human relations and personal perspectives are very complex If you are not a minority, but most of the criminals you encounter are a minority, it is only human to associate those ethnicities or races with criminality. The reverse also applies, if you are person who is constantly engaged in, or on the edge of criminal activity, you see law enforcement as the enemy and the object of your anger, you know, “the cops are always hassling me.”
These perceptions eventually become self-fulfilling prophesies and when they do both the police and the accused are ready for confrontation. Complicating the equation enormously are a tiny percentage of overly aggressive police, a core of dangerous criminals determined to fight it out, the addicted, and the mentally ill – all unpredictable. The most difficult question for a police officer in a confrontation is to determine what they are dealing with. Is it a big mouth, a showoff, just a puncher, a deranged individual, or is it a potential killer?
Most after-the-fact commentary on these confrontations fail to take into account the natural human responses of fight or flight and the police training that, typically, takes flight out of the picture. The police don’t surrender the streets or the initiative to the criminals.
The statistics are very spotty, but those we do have indicate that in 2012, approximately 70 law enforcement personnel were killed in the line of duty by violence – gunfire, stabbing, or assault, usually with a vehicle. During the same year police in the line of duty killed between 400 and 600 persons. Both those numbers a much too high; those killed in law enfocement while protecting us and fhose killed by the police in error are equal tragedies.