For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Unfortunately, that’s one of many Scripture passages that have been marginalized by situational ethics and progressive challenges. I remember when those who questioned authority actually expected an answer and didn’t do it for the sake of the questioning alone.
Doug Wyllie, the Editor in Chief of PoliceOne.com, recently published an article that proposed that 2016 would be “the year of the criminal.” He also coined two relatively new terms that we should get used to, because we will likely be hearing them routinely in the coming months: “Deadly Hesitation” and “De-policing.” If these terms don’t survive in their present form, they will be reworked into something similar. Either way, they represent national syndromes that will characterize law enforcement in the immediate future…and no amount of political rationalization or denial will change that reality.
“Deadly Hesitation” will be used to describe the reluctance of police officers and deputy sheriffs to use deadly force, when it is absolutely necessary, resulting in their deaths or the deaths of others. “De-policing” will describe the withdrawal of police services, or the reduction of police presence in a community. Both of these are the result of officers and deputies backing away from assertive, much less aggressive, enforcement out of fear of repercussions from a society that has adopted a hypercritical attitude towards those who protect and serve. It’s not just the “mavericks” and the “cowboys” getting worked over. That ol’ broad brush has been dripping heavy with animosity and everyone’s been getting wet.
These are the natural negative consequences of anti-police rhetoric propagated by politicians, activists, and celebrities that has been amplified by a complicit news media…both liberal and conservative. Certainly, there are media personalities on the right and the left that have particularly proffered defenses of, and accusations against, law enforcement personnel in recent months. But, the overall effect has percolated a general snappish attitude of the public that is prone to criticize and prematurely condemn those designated to take on the criminal element on their behalf…24/7. That vicariously translates into an increased risk to the individual officers from the myriad sources of criticism that has dogged them for decades…particularly from the very justice system they serve. Despite their mandate to exercise objectivity based on the rule of law, the courts are not immune to public sentiment. The noble notion of being responsive to the developing needs of society becomes the cover for bending to meddlesome political pressure. The current jury system assures it. Does anyone doubt the validity of that statement given the relatively surprising results of high profile court decisions in recent years?
None of this diminishes the critical need to expect and demand top performance from our policing agencies. As John Adams once said, “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.” I can’t think of any governmental position that carries as much importance as that which directly impacts the very lives of its citizens. The truth of that quote is self-evident. But, so is one attributed to an anonymous donor; “A society that wants to make war with its police had better learn to make friends with its criminals.”
Unfortunately, the damage is done and that reluctance to engage is already securely rooted in those working the street…as well as those sitting behind polished desks in command positions. Politics is the name of the game now in law enforcement. When I was a recruit in the academy in 1978, I recall one of our instructors asking the class how many thought politics had a place in police work. No one raised their hands, because we had accepted the tenant that law enforcement had to be above politics in order to be conducted objectively with professionalism. I recently asked the same question of an academy class I was teaching. Without exaggeration, 90% of the hands went up…a testament of the times. Not only does the average cop have to negotiate the dangers of the street and vagaries associated with membership in any organization, they also have to keep a wet finger raised to test the political winds of their communities and the reactions of their chain of command to those waffling breezes.
It shouldn’t be any surprise to us that these developments are taking place. They have been repeated, albeit to a lesser extent, over the years. The vacillating tide of public opinion from community to community has forced police agencies and individual officers to adjust their modus operandi from time to time. But this sustained campaign against law enforcement has set in motion consequences we have only begun to recognize. Any adverse governmental change in policy or procedure always results in a delayed reaction. It takes time for an ill-conceived move to transmute into identifiable problems, which may or may not trigger an equally slow formulation of a solution. The wheels of government are known to move slowly and painfully.
Bob Dylan said, “For the times they are a changin’.” We should also recall he said, “There’s a battle outside ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls…” The communities that desperately rely on their officers and deputies to maintain some sense of security will likely rattle the loudest at first. Eventually, the loss of sanctuary will migrate into others less dependent on public safety…those who can afford private security. But even the wealthiest must venture out and mingle with the masses on occasion. How many presidential candidates will find it advantageous to equate police officers with terrorists, then?
Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash