By: Frances Prizzia | Criminal & DUI Defense

We have a problem in this county. Well, we have more than a few. However, as I write this, our cities are burning. Some view this as a race problem. Others view it as a police problem. I view it as both. Although while the two are related, I do not believe they are the same. Much has already been written about the problems of race relations and the way in which this country’s deeply racist history continues to impact us today. I don’t know that I have anything to add to that conversation today. Instead, I want to talk about the police problem.

In some ways, I believe the problems with policing in America to be more insurmountable than the problems surrounding race relations. Even though we have seen significant progress in terms of racism in this country over the last 60 years, there is still much to improve. Unfortunately, policing problem seems to be getting worse and it is finally getting the attention it deserves.

I believe that the policing problem begins with the way we conceptualize what the role of police in society should be. In reaction to the civil rights movement and significantly exacerbated by the war on drugs, we have increasingly militarized our police. We have moved away from the concept of community policing. In some communities, police forces have become more occupying army than part of the fabric of the community there to protect and serve. Not surprisingly, in particular in those communities, the reaction has not been good.

The image that police are generally good, friendly people who are here to help has been repeatedly shattered and with the advent of cell phone cameras, all of America can now see what some communities have long known. Tragically, the general reaction among the law enforcement community has not been to face the issues and truth about why this is happening and to find a better model. Instead, it has been defensiveness, cries of “Blue Lives Matter,” and a deepening sense of the already prevalent “us vs. them” mentality.

This is why I, and many others, sometimes feel hopeless when thinking of a solution to the problem. The attitudes of far too many people in law enforcement make the broken system seem so intractable that we may never fix it. This is a cyclical problem because as the role of police in society changes, the kind of people who wish to go into that kind of work changes. As with politicians, the people you want to be police don’t want to be police, and the people who want to be police are the people you don’t want to be police.

Police unions are incredibly powerful and, as a result, politicians have largely abdicated their oversight role. Fixing this step is the first step in solving this problem. Politicians must be made to understand that it is not always the safe and easy choice to reflexively side with law enforcement. The rage and sadness that we see spilling onto the streets must be harnessed into political action. Pressure must be applied.

If this step can be accomplished, and only then, can we begin to attempt to reframe the role of police within a community and move towards a model where police are again viewed as true public servants. When that happens we will see people who are interested in public service view policing as a way to serve and improve their communities. I have not fact checked this, but I read somewhere today that 94% of the Minneapolis police force does not live in Minneapolis. This phenomenon exists in Orange and Los Angeles Counties as well. We can not have community policing when our police are not part of the community and view the residents they police as “others.”

So, there are solutions, but they are not easy ones. They require real political involvement, vigilance and long-term thinking. Thus far, we have not achieved this to the degree that the civil rights movement did. Nevertheless there is a sense, at least to me, that things are reaching a tipping point. People are no longer willing to accept the status quo. Right now, they are saying it in disorganized and, likely, ineffective ones. Hopefully this passion and energy can be harnessed to begin the difficult work ahead of us.

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