Rethinking the Police

Can the police be fixed? Scrutiny on police in the last year or so has generated much discussion of police reform, from great ideas like changing departmental culture to encourage building multidimensional relationships between officers and the communities they police, to superficial but potentially helpful changes like body cams, to misguided fixes like the “triple defender” less-lethal weapon.

But what if the very role of police is inherently off the mark? An interesting article from the Atlantic suggests that policing relies on “power” – an external, force-oriented approach to social control, rather than “authority,” which relies on relationships and consent from those being led. For African American communities in particular, the U.S. has relied on the police “hammer” to respond to social ills like drug addiction, poverty, and mental illness.

We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?”

The best police departments in the nation will still fall short of being able to fix the kind of problems that police are currently expected to “deal with.” While there are changes that can and must take place, broader and more substantial change isn’t going to come from within police departments, but from public pressure to create positive responses to social needs and rely less (or not at all) on punitive ones.

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