December 6, 2023

More police on the beat on the street



Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

More police on the beat on the street

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – President Clinton’s call in the 1990’s for 100,000 cops on the street became a rallying cry for his administration, and for the “New Democrat” policies that he championed. Fast forward to this week at the White House where President Obama called on Congress to fund 50,000 body cameras for police across the nation to record their actions.

What have we learned in the intervening decades?  Trust between the police and the communities they serve is strained, and that’s especially true in high-crime, under-served, typically minority communities. That was true when Clinton was in office in the nineties, and it’s true today with the nation’s first black president in the White House.

Obama held a day of talks with law enforcement officials from around the country, and community activists whose voices have taken on a much needed urgency in the face of ongoing protests over the events in Ferguson, Missouri that left an unarmed black young man shot dead by a white police officer.

Without re-litigating the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision to not indict the officer, Obama is trying to move the conversation beyond a single incident to the systemic problem of the breakdown in trust between law enforcement and the high-crime communities that are most in need of a police presence.

Cameras should help in assuring residents that police actions are monitored, and that cops on the beat can’t act with impunity. Many minority communities feel singled out and harassed by cops empowered by their badge. Assuming Congress signs off on Obama’s request for $263 million over three years, with $75 million dedicated to buying the cameras, this would be a good faith first step by Obama who is at pains to convince the public that he isn’t all talk and no action.

Changing the us-versus-them culture that pervades many police departments will take time and training, and Obama can make only limited headway. The bigger push will have to come from police departments themselves. The militarization of the police who increasingly rely on equipment once limited to battlefields in foreign lands makes it harder to establish the kind of community policing that creates trust through cops walking the beat and building relationships.

The overwhelming majority of people are law abiding upstanding citizens who lead decent lives and want to raise their children in safe environments, which is why, if given a choice between security and freedom, people will choose safety. Without it, there can be no freedom.

With heightened scrutiny of police actions, there’s a danger that law enforcement will back away from policing the communities that need them most.

Ensuring the safety of residents, and of the police who venture into dangerous neighborhoods, requires more, not fewer, police, and that costs money. Congress funds peacekeepers around the world to the tune of billions of dollars, so lawmakers shouldn’t balk at fulfilling the president’s modest request of $263 million, not billion.

Obama’s call for 50,000 cameras doesn’t have the same ring as former president Clinton’s call for 100,000 cops, but it’s a start toward making the police accountable, and assuring residents that someone’s got their back.

Some training methods should also be re-examined. According to law enforcement officials, once a policeman pulls his gun and fires, he is trained to shoot to kill. That’s why the officer in Ferguson shot Michael Brown in the head and chest, and not his legs, which would have incapacitated the unarmed teen, but not killed him.

Local jurisdictions rarely have the funds to mount the kind of community policing that Clinton called for, and that has been proven effective. Overall crime rates around the country are at record lows, which is why this is an opportune time for the federal government to step in and provide the resources to high-crime areas for a visible police presence around the clock.  Minority communities don’t hate the police, they hate being treated like second class citizens when it comes to their safety.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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