Neighborhood Policing: The view from inside a
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MWRAP) vehicle
I have watched new policing methods since Mayberry RFD, to the adoption of bullet-proof vests to SWAT teams. The adoption of these new methods were reasonable. What is happening today is that the police are suffering the progression of “mission creep.”
Less and less, many police are thinking themselves as protectors of the peace and more and more as a militaristic thick blue line. Small towns are ready to counter an insurgency of unhappy citizens.
Some act with impunity waylaying motorists on the interstate highways. They are empowered to confiscate cars and money as the possible fruit of fantasy trafficking conspiracies. Recovering confiscated property by transient workers or travelers may be impossible to recover because of time and cost. Many just move on lest worse might happen.
The police use controversial techniques like “stop and frisk,” or DWI (Driving while Irish, not to be confused with driving while black). This is nothing less than the notion that, if you stop everyone, statistically, someone will possess medicine (not in its original container), drugs, have a warrant, or be guilty of something. Even littering is a popular reason to pull someone over, or alleging a tail light outage. It is true that if you stop everyone on flimsy or absent cause, you will find someone in violation of something.
However, the presumption of innocence demands that people have a right to travel freely and unimpeded. Manufactured suspicions relying on how low one’s pants hang around one’s waist, whether a Mohawk haircut, tattoos, or skin color are clear and present indicators of criminality. Eccentricity is a normal part of the human condition. Even mental illness is part of the human condition. We are a free country and we have the duty to rein in police overreach.
To confuse mental illness and eccentricity with criminality is wrong. Criminality may be a form of mental illness. However, the difference between conscious deliberative criminality is different from the non-deliberative delusional or hallucinatory actions of those who have no control over their actions. There is some overlap in the continuum of those poles but the qualitative difference is huge.
Too often, the police see no difference between the mentally ill and the uncooperative venal criminal. Too we see the mentally ill beaten to death by police with no training or empathy. Too often “command presence” trumps compassion. Their promotions are based on the number and quality of arrests they make. The quality of arrests has to be “good” even if the facts of the arrest must be fudged a bit to allow the district attorneys to successfully prosecute.
Truly, the concept of neighborhood policing has been hidden inside the shatter-proof, mine-proof, wall of isolation as much as any foreign policy.