Another day, another protest. In cities across America, groups once again gather to voice their disdain and, at times, their outright hatred of their local police. They demand reform and changes, but offer little in substance as to what changes and reforms they seek. All they know is that they’re not happy with what they have at the moment.
Compounding the problem, even our elected and appointed leaders and the local media — almost all of whom have failed to support the police and who pander to the citizen protesters — are short on answers when it comes to how to change police-community relations.
But if history is a guide, one need not look too far into the recent past. In the late 1990s and into the new millennium, “racial profiling” and police pursuits were the hot topics of the day, with politicians and citizens calling for reforms and change in police policy and practices.
The racial profiling reforms led to better record keeping, statistical analysis and further training of police in regard to racial sensitivities and police-community partnerships. In-squad cameras were installed in hopes of building trust with the community by either substantiating or disproving claims of bias or wrongdoing on the part of officers.
With police pursuits, the old standard of pursuing anyone for just about any reason was done away with. Even though it was almost always the “bad guy” who ultimately crashed and often caused injury or death — to innocent people — the lawyers, the politicians, the media and citizens themselves held the police responsible for those injuries or deaths. They demanded change to police tactics.
The resulting reforms were much more restrictive policies, which to this day severely limit police in pursuing those who flee in a motor vehicle.
Some departments have gone so far as to institute “no pursuit” policies. Like most jurisdictions, Minneapolis instituted a pursuit policy that restricts officers to pursuing only in cases of a recognized NCIC Part 1 crime of violence. In other words, today, when a “bad guy” flees from police, the top consideration for pursuing is “the severity of the crime.” Furthermore, departments instituted much harsher discipline for officers who violate the new pursuit policy. Today, officers are much more hesitant or reluctant to even think about pursuing anyone who flees. But the citizens, the politicians and the police administrators accept it and support it because of the inherent danger involved in pursuits.
Could this be the future of today’s demands for reform and change? Would people be happy and fully support the federal, state or even local governments if they passed laws restricting the police from proactively enforcing low-level misdemeanor crimes committed in an officer’s presence, such as littering or public urination, because the crime does not warrant the possibility of police use of force and possibly death?
Or would the public support a new standard that the police can no longer stop and detain a person based on “suspicious behavior” without an identified complainant, so as to eliminate any perception of racial bias?
That the police must have a complainant, victim or arresting citizen in order to invoke police authority?
That there would be no more anonymous 911 callers or complainants?
And that any enforcement action would occur only when a police body camera is in use so as to protect the officer and department from potential litigation and assure that the constitutional rights of the public are not violated.?
Is this where we’re headed? Would this make the citizens happy? You tell me. After all, you “pay my salary.”
Christopher Guelcher is an officer in the Minneapolis Police Department.