“To Protect and Serve.” In 1963, the Los Angeles Police Department adopted this motto in order to encompass the ideals of the department. Since then, many other departments around the nation have adopted the motto to express their duty to the American people. However, in recent months, the “protect” aspect of the motto has been put into question.
On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown, and unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by white police officer, Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. On November 24th, 2014, the grand jury decided not indict Officer Wilson, inciting protests that roiled the area for weeks.
Due to lack of credible evidence and major discrepancies in the eyewitness accounts, it seems that the indictment was almost inevitable; there was simply not enough evidence to uncover the sequence of events that led to the untimely death of Michael Brown.
However, this case signifies a much larger issue; the use of force by police officers has become a growing problem in the United States, leading to political, social, and cultural turmoil. We can attack this problem on three fronts: the individual, the departmental, and the Congressional.
On the Individual-level, police officers need to receive special training, allowing them to interact with the community better and reduce the influence of pre-conceived notions on their actions. As a result, police officer will be able to have more meaningful and constructive interactions with members in their jurisdiction. Additionally, hiring a police force more representative of the ethnic groups in a department’s jurisdiction will build a more sensitive police force, and augment the quality of interactions between the police and the community.
At the departmental-level, both police officers and the public have to push for more transparency. This would require the use of body cameras to ensure the availability of an unbiased account of the events in cases such as the one in Ferguson. The cameras will also be able to deter police officers from using deadly force, improving the relationship between the police and the public. Additionally, in cases where a police officer does use deadly force, and it is discovered that the officer violated protocol, the department must ensure that the officer is accountable for his or her actions and receives the proper punishment.
Despite all these changes, the most lasting changes (we can hope) will come from Congress. As of now, it seems that Congress, especially the Republicans who will have control of both houses next year, are uninterested in preventing cases, like the Ferguson case, from proliferating in the United States. Instead, the Republicans are calling for action to ensure the proper resources are in place to handle the protests that result in the aftermath of these decisions. They are funding mine resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles in order to handle the violence after a verdict, and continue to provide police forces with more military-grade weapons, often times more than the state’s Coast Guard. Instead, of financing these projects, Congress should be financing projects that expand the use of body-cameras, and continue to pass legislation, like the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, in order to increase transparency among police departments.
Ultimately, the police are meant “to protect and serve” the people. If the people are afraid for their lives, and see the police as an occupying force rather than a peaceful mediator between society and the law, the interaction between the police and society will continue to degrade, leading to more unnecessary deaths.