"I became a police officer to help people"

What do you think of this notion.

“I did this job to help people who need me, I am a peacemaker, etc.”

I will not categorize all police officers as bad, because they are not. But there is a policing problem in America.

What do you think?

“The idea, which may sound cliched, is that I like to be able to help out a community,” he said. “I like the idea of working in a small town, where you can make a difference and see a difference happening.”

“It’s not just arrests and tickets, its giving help to everybody that needs help,” he said. “It might seem like we do very little, but we’re the guys you’re gonna call when you’re in need. There’s no incident too small for us to help with.”


What exactly are you wanting to debate?

If the debate is that some cops are inherently bad and some are not, I don’t think that’s a terribly hard sell, although the “not bad” ones might want to stop defending the “bad” ones in many situations if they want to stay on the “not bad” side.

If the debate is whether or not a policing problem is taking place in America, then I think the answer is pretty clearly yes.

Since the intended debate is not clear, here’s what I’ve never understood:

I am sure most LEOs are trying to do the right thing. They have an important job. I’m glad they’re there. But as with any group of significant size, there are going to be some bad apples. But it seems that there’s a “defend our own at any cost” mentality that causes the good ones to at least turn a blind eye to the bad ones, if not outright protect them. Why is that? I mean, are you going to tell me that when a couple of cops sodomize someone in an NY precinct bathroom, none of the other cops notice?

And what is it about police “culture” that allows this, where other fields in which people serve together in danger don’t seem to have it? Firefighters, nurses, doctors, my own field of aviation - we will turn in our own people for much less. And far from defending the bad apples, at least in my world, you’ll quickly develop a bad reputation and often have a hard time finding another job.

In a former career I was part of a fairly powerful union, and it would defend members who had clearly done wrong. It seemed to me this was doing what unions should do - guaranteeing the required due process, but it did not extend to people who had committed actual crimes. So I think what we see with police defending their own at all costs is something different.

It strikes me that one of the problems is the idea of police as a pseudo-miltary arm of the government. The actual military exists within a certain legal framework that sits outside of that of civilians. The police, despite thinking of themselves as separate from the public, are civilians and must be treated as such.

The problem is they don’t appear to be. A fight at a bar with a person dead through compression of the neck is not about to see their attacker released back into the public. A person jumping out of a car and shooting a child is not going to be allowed to leave the scene. Police appear able to ignore the constraints the public operates under. That’s a terrible combination that weakens the institution and trust in its members.

To be fair, it seems the same problem exists across a broad swath of public institutions.

Firefighters, nurses, and doctors are not perpetually dealing with criminals. The police officer is always seeing people at their worst; their interactions with other people are extremely likely to be when those people are behaving in an antisocial manner. Yes, they also deal with people who aren’t committing crimes, but their dealings with criminals are insanely tilted towards that type of interaction. That warps their attitudes. It’s hard to get around this and requires a lot of moral leadership from the top.

You get the same attitude from prison guards.

Frankly, I think a job that promises to give one authority over others is particularly attractive to the exactly the kind of people who shouldn’t be in that job in the first place. Throw in legally sanctioned (often necessary) violence into the mix, and you’re self selecting for the type of person capable of illegal and unnecessary violence.

I had meant to say the same thing- I’m in pharmaceuticals, which is a regulated industry. Over the years, I’ve seen incompetent and dishonest people shown the door a number of times. Nobody wants to work with them.

Except in comparable countries like the France or Canada or the UK the scale of deaths by police is at least an order of magnitude smaller per capita. So either American’s just generally like killing each other, American police culture is particularly violent or both.

I’m going with both.

I’m not trying to make this about the 2nd amendment, but it is certainly true that when one interacts with a suspect in the US, the odds of that person being armed is much higher than most other Western countries. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it must color the LEOs’ frame of reference.

Of course it will. However, per the article I linked, the US has 3.4x more guns than Canada per capita yet has 27.6x more fatal police shootings. France is similar where the US has 6.1x more guns and 38.3x more fatal shootings.

Comparing Canada to France we have 1.7x more guns and 1.4 more fatal shootings.

So while an armed populace is likely something - the police seem to be involved in far too many shootings, or perhaps, situations where shooting appears to be considered first. Then add in an approach by the justice system to privileged those actions, allowing them the benefit of the doubt when no such consideration seems to be given to the public at large. The incentive then for police is obvious and pernicious.

Cops tend to circle the wagons when the media and court of public opinion convict them before all the facts are know, Michael Brown and Terrence Crutcher cases being prime examples. In other cases, Walter Scott for instance, I didn’t see a “defend at any cost” mentality in the LE community. It was actually quite the opposite. With all due respect, the danger faced by police is quite different from nurses, firefighters and pilots. All of those profession are there to help people, exclusively, and the dangers come from accidents, not intentional acts of violence directed at them (with rare exceptions). None of those other professions involve limiting or perhaps taking completely, the freedoms or even the lives of others. In high crime areas the likelihood of having to arrest someone is much higher. Along with that comes an increased chance of violent resistance and the police become distrusted and hated by a significant percentage of the population - the criminals themselves and perhaps their family members and friends. An “us versus them” attitude develops (or more likely has been in place for generations). Any threat to a member of your team invokes an instinctive reaction to defend that member. (This includes both police and the citizenry.) Group cohesion forms when members of the group face danger together- especially danger directed purposely at them by other human beings. At times, that cohesion become dysfunctional - lying and covering up for bad cops. The bond that forms among police officers is closer to that of combat soldiers than the aforementioned jobs. In my experience, this bond is tighter in high crime area departments and precincts. The resurgence of community policing is one attempt to correct things but it is manpower intensive and nobody want to see their taxes go up to pay for enough cops to get out and walk while, at the same time, keeping response times to a minimum.

Add to all that, being second-guessed by citizen review boards and the media who have no training or experience in the area. As a pilot, would you like someone deciding your fate who never held a pilot’s license or been formally trained in aviation matters? Do surgeons have teachers and businessmen and community leaders determining whether ot not the technique they use during a procedure was the proper one? I mean, we’ve all seen plenty of TV shows about doctors and hospitals. We know how it works. How about cameras? Do doctors and nurses want all their patient interactions recorded? Why not? After all, the number of people who die of medical errors/malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the country!

My bottom line is, yes, there is a problem with policing is some places in the U.S. The majority of cops are doing a good job and have the support of the communities they serve. There are no easy answers, just like there are no easy answers to solving the crime problem in general. Training is increasingly emphasizing treating everyone, even suspected criminals, with more respect. If we can get cops to buy into that idea, it will go a long way. But it can be tough to respect people when they don’t respect or outright despise you. When nobody saw anything at a crowded crime scene, officers begin to think “They don’t want to help? That makes them part of the problem. Screw 'em” and further divides the two groups. Both the chicken and the egg bear some responsibility. Its VERY complicated. Books have been written about this stuff but who wants to take the time to read or educate themselves when the answers can be found on Twitter or Facebook or The Straight Dope? Sorry for rambling.

I’ve heard that argument plenty of times before, and I don’t buy it. If it was the case, all cops would have warped attitudes and act like bullies and thugs. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bullies and thugs who are cops and the percentage is probably higher than people realize. But I think the best explanation is that they’re bullies/Captain America/racist/‘sheepdog’ types in the first place.


I’m considering this not a real attempt at a debate but again, potentially inflammatory and therefore near-trolling.

Do better or you will find your permissions to post in Great Debates or Elections limited.