A few years ago, I was pulled over by an Indiana State Police Officer as I entered tiny Griffin, Indiana from a uninhabited rural area. I had been gardening, and I was in my usual ragged clothing, with my scruffy beard, driving my old beater of a pickup truck.  The young police officer, who I later learned was a fellow Griffin native, was a very sharp guy with a military bearing.  He did not have Polaroid sunglasses, I could see his eyes, and he spoke to me with courtesy and respect. He explained, that I had just emerged from an area often used by meth makers. I showed him my license, registration and insurance papers, and he ran me through his computer. No threat of violence, no impolite growling, no belittling body language, and he did not try to force or trick me into telling him, where I had been or where I was going. He was a respectful professional. He treated me like a citizen, and we interacted in a way, that actually left me feeling like, I had made a new friend.

Unfortunately several other police stops, I have experienced, in the past twenty years have been much different. Other officers wearing reflective sunglasses have talked to me with their hand on a weapon. They have scowled and growled and never cracked a smile, and refused to even acknowledge my questions. This while interrogating me like a hardened criminal, during simple traffic stops. These guys, not the good State Cop from Griffin, get all the press. But, they seem to be in the majority. 

Anymore, most people lacking big money or political connections distrust and or fear the police. I do.

Today, the police usually meet citizens with a stony glare, act brusquely and try to intimidate. It works, they do intimidate. I attribute this to the militarization of policing. This militarization is the fault of politicians not the police on the street. The police on the street are just doing, what their political bosses demand of them with whatever inappropriate hardware they are handed. 

The politicians have given street police officers reflective sunglasses, dark tinted police car windows, that hide the officers from citizens, automatic assault rifles, tear gas, stun guns, battering rams, military tanks, military shotguns, huge clubs, masks, sonic weapons, and all varieties of military equipment. This military equipage just shrieks the intent to violently suppress the least question to police authority. Most of our officers are young, white males, an American demographic steeped in macho and testosterone. And, consequently a demographic that finds little trouble in embracing the political mind set of domination through shock and awe.

To make matters even worse, in most cases, these officers have fewer and less stringent rules of engagement, than our real soldiers in real combat with real foreign enemies of our nation on foreign soil.

Yes, I understand, that these officers put their lives on the line for us. I served in combat in Vietnam, so I am well able to appreciate that point. So, what do I suggest? Just a few simple changes.

Police need to have clear rules of engagement with the public. These rules of engagement need to prohibit standing on the throats of handcuffed prisoners, and almost anyone else, for that matter. The police rules of engagement need to stop all shooting by police, unless shot at first, or being able to show absolute proof, that they were about to be shot at. And, I mean absolute proof, not just saying it is so. The risk that involves is part of the job, real military often operate under the don’t shoot first rule.

Police shooting and any physical violence by police needs to be ruled the very last resort. The occasional temporary escape of a suspect, needs to be ruled less of a serious problem, than shooting them. There should be no death penalty prior to a trial for any offense, much less passing a counterfeit $20 bill or sassing a police officer. 

All the military hardware needs to go, or at least be kept out of sight, until actually needed. A possibility I view as rare and unlikely.

We need to make a huge effort to hire more minority officers, particularly females. Because females are not as bellicose as young white males. We need to take urban officers, at least, out of those anonymous prowling police cars. Most police need to work on foot or on bicycles, so that the citizens can know, who the officers are and view them as people rather than dangerous machines. 

Most of the time and money now spent on military hardware and military training for police, should be directed to having public events, where police meet and interact with the citizens, building trust.

Most of what I suggest would help the police as much as the citizens.

And, yes the citizens have responsibilities, too. But, it is the police, who swear an oath and take a pay check to keep order, so they must change first, and let their good behavior improve the public’s attitude and actions toward them.

Serve and protect, rather than domination is the key. 

Ron Nesler posting from New Harmony Indiana.



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