In the last week I had an opportunity to read this op-ed by Chief Edward Flynn of the Milwaukee Police Department
published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His name may not be familiar to you but he is well known among police chiefs. He has worked in a variety of departments in the east. He is outspoken but he is also thoughtful and employs progressive strategies to control crime and serve his community. He can be a controversial figure because he is willing to take on issues.
I liked this piece because I share many of his views. I am of the same generation of police that Flynn is. I’ve also been witness to the changes and challenges over the last 40 years. An excerpt from the article:
In a recent conversation covering the evolution of policing in the past 40 years, which covers the arc of my career, there was frustration that the same criticisms being leveled at the police today were being leveled at the police 40 years ago.
This is despite the fact that over the last 40 years, police have advanced and improved more than any other component of local government. We have become more technologically sound, have higher levels of integrity, are more restrained in the use of force, are more integrated, are more educated, are more carefully trained and are more selectively chosen than ever before. Yet we are hearing many of the same criticisms.
Did the police as a national institution fail? My answer is no. The police evolved. Fast enough, far enough, perfectly enough? No. More than the national narrative wants you to believe? Yes.
So why is there so much frustration and confusion? Because it became easy to delegate the social problems of America to the police. Over the past 40 years, there have been massive disinvestments in mental health care, social services for the homeless, for the disadvantaged, for those who are substance abusers. Our police have become the social agency of first resort for the poor, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Indeed, if one did not know better, one would think society had decided that no social problem is so complicated that it cannot be cured with more training for the police. That is neither accurate nor sustainable. We throw the young, idealistic, service-minded men and women of policing into a social meat grinder and we expect them to perform perfectly at all times. When they err, we do not treat them like soldiers in Afghanistan making a mistake under pressure; we treat them like criminals. This is wrong.
The police cannot solve every social problem and be everything to everyone. As a society we need to rethink how we deal with social ills – the police are not the solution to every problem.
Because I know them so well, as individuals and as community servants, and because I see the challenging work they do everyday, I am confident in our police. You can feel confident in them too.
Click on the link below for the full article: