Friday, August 29, 2014

Bring down the ‘blue walls’

    In some police departments, officers are known for protecting fellow officers who have violated major departmental rules, policies or statutes. In these departments, officers are expected to stand together safely with other officers behind a blue wall of silence. Officers who lie or look for other ways to protect fellow officers do so because of their perceived need to stick together in difficult times, often in response to political pressures. Doing so, however, is wrong.
    Blue walls may protect an individual or a particular group of officers from critics, but the eventual outcome will likely be, as it has been in Ferguson, Mo., an angry, inflamed and destructive public.
    The blue wall, built with suspicion of civilians and the press, and the reluctance to open police actions to investigation, seem justifiable to many police departments and some elected officials. Elected officials bear equal responsibility for the health of relations between police and communities by virtue of their attitudes and the exercise of the power of their offices in training and equipping police.
    Police often find themselves caught up in a perception of the world that consists only of good guys and bad guys, of perpetrators and civilians. They easily come to believe that no one but others within their own team of colleagues really understand what they live and struggle with daily.
    Truth be told, when it comes to being an officer of the law, few of us would be all that excited about taking on the responsibility. When a highway patrol officer pulls over a motorist, that officer knows that there is at least some chance that the motorist is a dangerous criminal.
    Police should never be sent out onto the roads, or into communities, without sufficient training. Recent events in Ferguson made it clear, however, that there had not been enough training in how to deal with distrust between beat officers and residents, especially in economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods.
    No matter how difficult or dangerous the people they confront might seem, police officers finally must understand that they are the ones who carry the gun and the badge. The right to use them to impose their will carries with that right an incredible responsibility. There is no room for poor training, paranoia or bigoted attitudes, or a lack of accountability on the part of officers or elected officials.
    In Ferguson, all sides feel they are victims. It’s a model we must change everywhere in this country. An atmosphere of trust, openness and integrity, one without either blue walls or stone ones, best serves both citizens and those who try to protect and serve.

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