by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Police officers come in two basic flavors, the “serve and protect” peace officers and the “enforce and collect” enforcement officers. These represent (in the overly simplified terms used here) two fundamentally different and incompatible philosophies that are competing for the heart and soul of the profession. I needn’t mention which view is winning out since 9/11. Still, the drama playing out among departments also plays out within departments, which might help account for some of the reasons behind the article below. You might not see it at first, but so often the emotional motivations behind what seems like petty disputes are really underlying rifts involving fundamentally different world views. That’s what I suspect is happening here in New Jersey and elsewhere around the country.
Police officers across the state are suing fellow cops and departments over everything from sexual harassment to being sent home for wearing the wrong shoes — and residents are footing the bill. We unearthed the details, and the latest tally.
In the opening account in this article a female officer in Camden is made Chief of Police. When she inspects the unmarked car that comes with the job she discovers that one of her fellow officers planted crack cocaine in the car to derail her promotion and her life. Incidents like this reveal just how serious the clash of ideologies can be within public police departments.
I had a good friend who spent his entire career in local police departments. He dedicated himself to serving the public. Sometimes that meant arresting people who endangered others or disturbed the peace, but it also meant going the extra mile to help out a resident in a pinch. In smaller towns and communities it isn’t all bad guys all the time. He was never cynical or jaded by his work, but his philosophy on small town policing set him at odds with a segment of his fellow officers. It played out in many internal conflicts and unfavorable personnel decisions over the course of his career. In the end he retired early in part because of the hostility he felt in the workplace.
I have other police officer friends, even some who are of the “enforce and collect” variety who received negative attention in their careers when they strayed a bit from that philosophy. Another person I know who aspires to be a police officer was turned off by the militancy and hardnosed cynicism that has been built into the police training curriculum. Just what does the current police training curriculum look like these days? The public has a right to know.
What all this really means is that the drama playing out in society as a whole between ultra-conservative ideologies and more liberal ideologies is also playing out in all our institutions, including police agencies. Local departments are not immune to what affects society as a whole. What’s different here is that even small, local police departments shun transparency. While they work for the public they tend to view us as civilians outside of their fraternity. It is hard to penetrate a Departments cultural view. At the same time, there is clearly money and military style equipment flowing into even local law enforcement agencies, which serves to alter the character of local policing.
These changes are real. What is missing, in addition to transparency, is a robust public debate on what role we want local police to play in our communities. Are we aware of the changes character of our local police departments and are we comfortable with those changes?