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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Police and Policing

What is it that ‘laws’ are supposed to do? Take a moment and think about this...
I like to take it back to the original intent and the motivation for it. Ultimately laws try to make society a more ordered and secure place. Obviously what ‘ordered and secure’ means will differ from place to place and culture to culture. In some places and/or times laws weren’t needed for certain crimes as all ‘property’ was communal, and/or criminal outcomes weren’t about punishment, but more about restoration.  The goal really is to find a way to work within a cultural system to find a way to allow people to feel secure.  In current global society I think that we have lost some of the original intent of the concept of laws and replaced it with a cultural of punishment and zero tolerance. 

I am not saying that if someone does something against the law that they should simply be able to pay their way off or somehow be obsolved of the crime.  But ultimately, the goal always was supposed to be to create that type of society where people felt comfortable and safe.  What says that this requires jail or death sentences, which are simply the way that things are mostly done today and in the societies we live in.

The point that I am trying to get to here is that 'policing' as it is undertaken today is for the most part about fear and then retribution.  Of public figures police officers are generally some of the worst regarded people in many places.  Now obviously, they are the messengers of laws that tell people they 'can not' do something.  No one seems to like being told what they can't do.  But the culture of policing in many of the countries I've been in or studied is not one of a 'peace officer', but more about intimidation than helping people to 'learn' the leasons needed to create this more 'ordered' and 'secure' society. 

Take this advertisment from Prague.  When I first saw this billboard I
thought it was for a new actin movie or TV show (the tag means 'Action Prague').  But it is not an advertisment for a new action drama, but for recruiting new police officers.  Guns, Motorcycles, tough guys, movie type personas.  Amazing, what type of people do you think you are going to get for the job?  Certainly not 'peace officers'.  You are going to get argressive people that want to shoot guns, take risks, have power, and feel like 'tough guys'.  And the sad thing is that while this ad is so blatently absurd, this is really the type of person that a lot of people envision when they think of "cops".  We all have been driving on the road when a cop passes us going well above the speed limit.  We hate it that 'professional courtessy' means they will never get a ticket.  Abuse of the law is par for the course with police officers (as it is in many industries).  And it doesn't help that the type of people they try to recruit are the once that this type of add appeals to. 

I think another issue is about power, no where else in society is someone actually 'the law'.  They can tell you whatever they want and make you do whatever they want.  If you complain it is your word versus a 'police officers', and you'll lose.  If they pull you over, they treat you like a criminal, no inocent before proven guilty there.  You can't get out of the car, can't actually dare to be anything but passive and just take whatever they say.  It is definitley not a conversaiton among equals (How often do you see a scene in a movie where a cop smashes out a tail light and starts talking sh*t and making threats, and let's not mention Rodney King or Amadu Diala).  Abuse of power inundates society, but I guess we expect police officers to be above that.  They are the closest and most visible association to 'the law' that we have, it would be great to see them lead by example and in the spirit and in the intent of laws in general - to make society a better more stable place to live.

Now obviously this type of compassion and understanding does exists among police officers.  Not everyone gets a ticket everytime they are pulled over, and police officers are people as well and have emotions and feelings just as the rest of us (though if you get people with the above advertisment its possible not as much).  But they can not break free of the system and their trained objectives.  Western society is so thoroughly based on individualism that everything sees all as their own right.  Police officers rightfully have to protect themselves.  Society puts them in the cross hairs, and in return they put society in teh cross hairs.  Both sides need work.     

To me, rather than inducers of fear, police officers should be teachers as well as monitors.  How many people have been pulled over, all full of this fear, and then the officer lets them off with a warning.  Upon this, many people actually head this warning and learn a lesson.  Once a person stares losing their license, money, or even job in the face, their perspectives can easily change.  People can learn without being 'punished' on numerous levels of 'criminality'.  I mean think about it, is it the physical time in jail staring at the wall 'thinking' about what you've done that 'rehabilitates' someone, or is it the loss of privledges and time and the thought of a life ruined?  You don't have to sit in a cell to experience that.

Now I am not saying we should abolish jail - that would be for a different thought process - but what I am saying is basically that society needs to rethink how it goes about 'ordering' and making itself 'secure'.  What it wants doesn't have to come through fear and intimidation, but through leasons learned - and taught.  There are good police officers out there, but they get caught in a culture of policing and violence that minimizes some of that.  People can learn lessons and not have their lives ruined during it.  The simple prospect of losing everything, can teach us to change our ways, while still allowing us to be productive members of society and not physical and/or financial drains on the political and economic system. 

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