Due to the high profile killings of African Americans by law enforcement, officers believe that their jobs got much harder according to a 2011 Pew Research Center study.
An overwhelming majority of officers surveyed believe that isolated fatal incidents between police and Black Americans have made officers less safe, made encounters between the two groups more tense, and is hampering officers in their duties to protect the public.
Many people blame the police for shooting unarmed Black people, some say it’s because of the actions of a few “bad” cops, while others say the problem is a result of a racist society. However, the problem may be more about the function of the police rather than the police themselves.
According to Oxford Bibliographies, an on-line scholarly publication, policing as it exists today came out of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century as a response to massive social change and urbanization. In the South, policing has it’s roots in maintaining slavery and Jim Crow. In other parts of the country, police enforced “law and order” on the working class often unhappy with living conditions and poverty. In 1838 the first official police institution appeared in Boston, Massachusetts. Many poor Whites blamed wealthy Whites which prompted the upper class to hire armed men to protect their interests. The original purpose of the police is controlling the masses by force.
According to an Eastern Kentucky University article policing in 19th century America emerged as a response to “disorder” rather than to deal with crime. Dr. Gary Potter of Eastern Kentucky University in his article on policing stated that in the 19th century, the business interests defined “social disorder” in accordance with their need to maintain public order. He purposes that policing was more about social control rather than crime control.
A recent 2016 Cato Institute study found that nine out of ten people surveyed would not want to decrease the amount of police in their area. Although the percentage of those who support a stronger police presence varies by ethnic group, the overall sentiment favors more police rather than no police at all.
However, the public’s attitudes towards police agencies appear to be turning negative. At the same time police officer attitudes about their job is also changing for the worse. The issues are affecting both the police and the public in a negative and sometimes dangerous way. The number of police killed while on duty is on the climb.
There are alternatives to addressing this gap in attitudes and function. Rather than trying to reform a police culture that is actually functioning as designed, citizens could petition their Mayors to create a new auxiliary prevention team of highly trained systems specialists to identify areas in the city and social structures that can lead to violence and theft. These specialists can then implement evidence based proactive and prosocial measures to correct negative environmental elements. These specialists would have to be trained in psychology, sociology, addiction recovery and critical thinking methods. They could act similarly to Crisis Response Teams: officers trained to deescalate situations involving individuals with mental health issues.
These specialists would work to resolve potential issues before there is ever a need for law enforcement to get involved, who could still be called upon when all else fails. With this methods, as with the Crisis Response Teams, there is likely to be a decrease in crime in general as well as violent confrontations between police and members of the public.