|We Don't Harass People Because Of Race|
Did this appease the ACLU, who was filing a lawsuit against the CHP for racial profiling? Of course not. It appears that the CHP hierarchy was more concerned with the ACLU's perception of the California Highway Patrol, rather than the hundreds of innocent citizens whose lives have been improved by the successful removal of drug dealers and drug couriers from their neighborhoods as a result of Operation Pipeline and other operations that the ACLU claim involve racial profiling. Did Commissioner Helmick think about the impact such a ridiculous order would have on his officers?
Everyone in law enforcement knows that agencies do not devote their resources to stopping citizens simply because they are part of some minority group. Police officers want to take criminals to jail, period. We are not in this business to harass innocent citizens because of their race. Racial profiling does not exist and there are reports to prove it, but the bombardment on law enforcement continues. The California Legislature has made racial profiling training mandatory for all officers in California - a meaningless exercise that is demoralizing to professional peace officers.
The barrage of bogus policies, law suits, and ridiculous citizen complaints are compounded by the loss of manpower. Just look at your own department's ability to recruit officers. Agencies across the nation are facing a potential personnel crisis. An article in The New York Times reported that there were only 19 recruits in the June 2001 Los Angeles Police Academy - a record low. Normally there are 70 to 100 in each class. It would not be unreasonable to assume that a large number of people who would make excellent police officers feel that to risk their lives for increasingly ungrateful people isn't worth it. Some officers are discouraged by what is viewed as constant public criticism driven by the news media. A situation reported by a news service clearly illustrates the media's refusal to provide a positive light on law enforcement.
Chief Gil Kerlikowske is the chief of police in Seattle. While out running, he came across a number of people surrounding a woman who had passed out from a heroin overdose. The chief stopped to give her first aid and resuscitated her. The chief had to go to the hospital for Hepatitis B shots as a reward for his efforts. That night on the evening news, he received a few seconds of comment; a segment about a police chase for a stolen car that struck a pedestrian was the main topic. The officers were being blamed for causing the pedestrian's injuries.
We as law enforcement professionals must stop rolling over for the misguided ideologies of special interest groups. Management must get the facts out first then stand by their officers when they have been wronged. They must challenge the media when they criticize officers for the sake of selling the news. Educating the public is at the forefront of change. We spend thousands of dollars in the pursuit of a positive public image and still get ridiculed for doing our jobs. Most of the community policing pro-gram's ability to project a positive image is short-lived. Truth is, if we are doing the job that we are paid to do, we should be taking criminals to jail and protecting the public. Thus educating the public on why we do the job the way we do could promote a better understanding of law enforcement. Society does not have to like its law enforcement officers. It is, however, imperative that society understands and respects its law enforcement officers.
Establishing a citizen forum is an effective way to educate the community about our job. Citizens are placed in the same scenarios as the police officer and are told to carry out the job of the officer. The untrained citizen will be tasked with making arrests, using force, contacting subjects and other relevant police duties relating to their scenario. The scenario can be designed around a question that the citizen has about a current problem or it can be designed by the officers. For example, a citizen was driving a vehicle stopped by police. The stop turned into a felony stop and the citizen was taken out of his car at gun point. After a short investigation it was learned that the suspect vehicle and the driver were uninvolved. The citizen questions why the police use this method and how they got his description. A scenario can be developed placing the citizen in the officer's frame of mind. Then the citizen will work through the scenario. He will be accountable for his actions and asked to explain why he took the action he did. It's a fun way of placing citizens in the role of police officer in order to promote better understanding. The forums should be held at least once a month in a location away from the police building.
Local media people should be invited to participate in the first couple of forums. This will educate both newspaper and television reporters by providing a better understanding of law enforcement. This strategy will also improve police-media communications. With the media on board, you will develop a group of reporters who will embrace this program and help promote its merits.
Ron Rice is a senior officer with the Bakersfield, Police Department in California.