Do we, as a society, expect too much from people in public positions?
The most common current example is the police. If we have to call the police, do we expect someone to show up seconds later who is an entire judicial system, SWAT team, psychologist, negotiator, social worker, paramedic, living embodiment of Dirty Harry and a long list of other criteria that are only limited by the number of different complaints?
Despite our societal expectations, people in public roles are simply people just like the rest of us. They may have a certain skill set or materials required to do the job. A high school teacher, for example, in Iowa is required to hold a bachelor’s degree and have taken a teacher education program. For that matter, how many people know substitute teachers need to have a bachelor’s degree and 15 hours of approved training. Most people in public fields also need to pass pretty strict background checks.
Obviously we want people in positions of authority who know how to do their jobs. If you get on an airplane, you expect the airline to have hired someone to be the pilot who knows how to land a plane safely and does this every time. The point is, the pilot would not be expected to come out of the cockpit and do a passenger’s bookkeeping. It seems as if more and more this is what we as a society are expecting.
Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room. In May, we as a society were shocked when we saw the video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes, even after he had stopped moving and had no pulse. During this time officers J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane further restrained Floyd, while officer Tou Thao prevented bystanders from intervening. My personal thought is that the vast majority of people who saw the video (I’m guessing at least 98 percent) of this believe the officers murdered Floyd in cold blood and need to be held accountable for it. This is not what I am referring to. Throughout the nation, many officers joined protesters in taking a knee to say they also felt what had happened was wrong.
As a result of the Floyd incident, there is a growing call to simply defund the police. There does not seem to be a consensus on what this means, with some groups calling for the police to be disbanded entirely while others are calling for spending less on law enforcement and turning those funds to social services and hopefully eliminate the need for law enforcement. In most cities law enforcement does take the lion’s share of the city’s general fund. Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, says money that would otherwise go to police should be used for services that low-income communities are often denied such as mental health, domestic violence and homelessness. Most of these issues are things police tend to be the first responders to.
Personally, I’m one of the people who believes defunding the police, unless there is some other kind of security program waiting to be implemented such as the use of a private security firm to patrol cities, would lead to a pretty serious upswing in crime. Recent reports coming from areas such as Seattle where police were told to stand down have done nothing to change that opinion. I don’t know how practical hiring a private firm is because in population centers, the numbers of active officers are in the tens of thousands. One of the more recent reports from St. Louis showed an armed couple keeping protesters from coming on their property at gunpoint. Well, if the police aren’t there to call if there is a problem, this is liable to become the new norm.
Back to the original question. Is part of the problem we are expecting too much? With the call to reform police departments, one of the big things we may want to think about doing is educating the public about what can be expected from an interaction with the police. What can they do if you call them about a certain issue? What can’t they do? Most of all, how does the public know when the police are performing their jobs the right way and when they aren’t.
A good side effect of that is it will open up lines of communication between the community and the police.
The issue of police brutality is a real problem. It is also an opportunity. It is a chance for communities who don’t believe the police are there to help them to come together with the police to try to move forward together.
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