What shall be the role of cops in the future?
Who will want to be a cop in the future?
Who would we want to be a cop in the future
Full disclosure: Being Irish-American, I come from a long line of cops including my father and numerous uncles and great-uncles.
Growing up I planned to start out as a cop, maybe move up to the FBI, maybe attend law school and maybe somewhere in the process become a prosecutor. Lots of maybes and none of this happened. However, I did become a mall cop working weekends for over 15 years. So I sort of became a cop. I also had a birds eye view of all the good-bad-ugly that cops deal with.
Growing up I planed to be a cop given the following ingredients:
- It’s just what we do as Irish Americans
- It’s all about fighting crime, catching bad guys. My favorite shows were cop and detective shows (Hawaii 50, Adam-12, Mannix, Cannon, Spencer For Hire, Highway Patrol). Obviously I grew up in the 1960’s
- It’s the uniform, gun, nightstick, handcuffs, siren, pride, honor, respect
As time when by, I spent a career community development, community organizing and years of working in the affordable housing field (including over 7 years managing public housing). During these years, the philosophy of “community policing” and “weed & seed” were in vogue. All well intentioned and necessary but unfortunately this organic, grass roots approach to policing did not have roots deeper than specialized units and public relations campaigns. Meanwhile, the rise of civil disturbances, 911/terrorism, and mass shooters spawned the growth of SWAT tactics and the militarization of police forces. When budgets tightened, choices had to be made between addressing root causes of social disorder (therapy, counselling, etc.) and clamping down on criminals in a show of force (i.e., 3 strikes and out laws, all cops looking like SWAT team members, etc.). In the classis economic show down of “guns vs. butter” the guns won out.
Which brings us around to todays watershed moment concerning social justice and a reckoning about the future of policing. For the record, I oppose the use of the term “defund the police” since I recognize it’s an emotional flash point that derails further conversation. I prefer the phrase “reimagining the police” and infusing the notion of getting the most “bang for the buck” (aka, Return On Investment ROI) when rolling out the nature of police work in the future.
So here’s my vision of cops and police departments of the future:
- Redeploy and restructure departments with an eye toward cost effectiveness. Contract with a computer geek squads to tackle white collar crimes, cyber crimes, hackers and conduct social media tracking (within constitutional limitations of course). No need for computer wizzes to pass agility and strength tests. Just deputized them (if needed) and turn them loose to ferret out criminals in the cyber world and get one step ahead of them. Their computer skills could also augment the rate of closure for violent crimes (rape, murder, armed robbery, etc.) since digital stakeouts are more cost effective than physical stakeouts.
- Contract with mental health agencies, counselors, psychologists, therapists, street outreach workers, juvenile counselors/mentors so they accompany the cops on appropriate calls for services and follow up as appropriate with suspects. By contracting with the aforementioned resources, these social service providers join the cop team without becoming beholden to the cop team/cop culture. Structure the contract for services so they deliver product by getting to the root cause of the criminal activity and thereby reducing the likelihood of recidivism. For example: based upon my mall cop experiences when a fight occurs among youths and they are being detained summon an appropriate mixture of the aforementioned team of social service providers who arrange for intervention sessions with the combatants including the parents/guardians of these combatants. If the juveniles and/or their parents/guardians fail to participate in the intensive/extensive counselling sessions, let the criminal charges be applied. If suspects and families agree to counselling, the record of charges will be wiped clean.
- Contract with mental health and addiction service providers in a format similar the above describe contact for social service providers so that long term solutions can be applied to what are currently short term fixes.
- Contract with specialists providing services for rape victims and domestic violence cases which require ongoing, intensive and compassionate interventions.
- Contract with private investigators who have the time, expertise and track record to build a case for the state so that the case closure rate is so high that the expression “crime doesn’t pay” really means something.
So where do we go from here??
- Ask every cop and police chief that you meet what they think should be done. Ask them if they feel overwhelmed by being a cop whose supposed to respond to any and all situations. Ask them if they are frustrated by all the repeat-offenders and the revolving door of justice as they re-arrest the same knuckleheads’ for the same offences over and over.
- Now ask them how they feel about working on a team involving a full range of therapists, counselors, outreach workers and case managers at the scenes of crimes, with ride alongs and participating in follow up intervention sessions with them. If they show reluctance but still complain about being overworked and overwhelmed, consider this disconnect and let’s all re-examine what’s their motivation to be “a cop” and what role they really want the cop to play.
- There will always be a need to respond to bar fights (traditional cop role)
- There will always be a need for someone ready, willing, able to respond to deadly threats and volatile situations (traditional cop role)
- There will always be the random criminal passing through the community who is “up to no good” needing to be dealt with.
Maybe cops in the future could be a highly trained cadre of officers who have the mental, physical and tactical skills to address the above listed needs.
For all other situations, maybe specialization and collaboration (in whatever format that ultimately takes) would be the most cost-effective long term strategy.
Maybe, finally we could get beyond that over used expression “Call the Cops!” expecting them to solve all of societies problems while the rest of us look the other way going about our business.
Your thoughts and feedback are always appreciated. And look for more of these criminal justice, social transformation themes baked into my upcoming novel entitled “Mall Child”