The oath that all cops take as they enlist in the force (at least by popular conception) is to “Protect and Serve” the communities they are assigned to. There seems to be a great emphasis on protection. The police are often “keeping people safe” by harassing them on the road during traffic stops, beating them, and even opening fire on unarmed surrendering citizens. It’s no wonder there’s civil unrest throughout the country and it’s no wonder fewer people than ever respect and trust the police.
Often it is lamented that young people have no respect for the authorities, least of all the police, and why should they? Why should most people? The only time we see them is if we are in trouble and are about to be punished. With this negative association, it’s no wonder even the mere sight of a police officer put’s us ill at ease.
Police officers have also in recent years expressed a growing concern about dying in the line of duty. So much is this so that in response to the Black Lives Matter the movement Blue Lives Matter arose to stand up for the lives of cops. This movement, while not as popular as Black Lives Matter, gained a great deal of momentum throughout the nation. It even grew to the point of influencing some legislation, for instance, a law in Louisiana that made it a hate crime to target a police officer with violence. All this, some critics have said, despite the fact the violence against police officers is said to have seen a drop in recent years.
It seems to me what the communities and their police departments lack is mutual trust. The people are afraid to step outside and so much as make eye contact with a cop and as soon as they see the uniform they are automatically on the defensive. On the other hand the only time a police officer makes contact with people in the community is when they are having a bad night, and generally, they don’t get to see the best of the best in society.
So what we end up having over time are police officers and community members who only see the worst of one another, and the only interactions they have are negative. It would seem to me the only way this will change is if one party reaches out to the other to heal that relationship. Sadly, only a few cops here and there have done just that. Consider the case of Officer Norman.
Officer Norman independently takes an hour after every shift to interact with children and families in the communities he serves. He gives them clothing, food, school supplies, and plays games with the kids and interacts with them each day. By serving the community and pursuing positive interactions with the community he has been able to earn their trust and respect, establishing a positive repertoire with those he has to work with during each shift. The benefits that come with that trust and relationship should go without saying.
How many times are policemen unable to locate a suspect because members of the community refuse to cooperate. Granted, this is partly because they are afraid of being targeted as a “snitch” but also because there is no respect, let alone affection for the police. The way the community sees it the police are there neither to protect nor serve, but to oppress.
By establishing a community service program for officers to participate in you allow the community to see a more positive side of the police, and the people can begin to see them as the human beings that they are. On the other shoe consider the viewpoint of a cop. Their jobs involve them dealing with some of the most tragic, stressful, and dangerous situations imaginable. They also are exposed to the worst of humanity on a daily basis.
It’s only natural a police officers after a while may develop a cynical view of the people he or she serves, and at some point even develop violent tendencies. In fact, there are many mental health issues attached to the job. PTSD, depression, and other mental illnesses are said to be 5 times higher for both firefighters and police officers than in the average American. According to a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, more police officers committed suicide than died in the line of duty in 2017.
Perhaps it would be good for our officers to see a more positive side of the community, and for the community to see a more positive side of the police. Would a police officer be less likely to open fire impulsively on a teen had he been mentoring him in a sports program at the local community center? Would a teen be more likely to afford respect and cooperation to a police officer they had a positive relationship with? As a bonus such programs could also be used in keeping a community’s youth busy and out of trouble, thus providing a safer community.
The benefits of community service programs for police officers are potentially many, and they don’t just apply to the community but to the police department and the officers themselves. Everybody wins when the police both protect AND serve the communities they’re sworn to.