Most police training, as befits training for war, is about “force protection” and officer safety above all. The training revolves around the idea not just that anyone could harm me, but that they will. This is where terminology such as calling people “civilians,” however well-intended, creates the impression and the actions of war. I have found that the closer I get to my neighbors, the safer we all are. Once we change to that mind-set, we can change police training to match.
A funny thing happened on the way to becoming a better rookie cop by being a better neighbor: I became a better person. This is the opposite of what wars do. Wars make monsters of us all. Overseas, our war on terror was fought and lost by mistreating entire communities while looking for a handful of people, all the while saying we were doing no such thing. That war has left behind fragile communities, not entirely our fault but certainly our responsibility. Our war on crime is producing the same fragile, anti-resilient communities in which an inevitable spark produces inevitable conflagration. This issue of blame versus responsibility wraps around me in my work as a cop. I’m not to blame for the misconduct of fellow officers across this country, but I am responsible. I’m not to blame for the historical and ongoing injustices in law enforcement and the judicial system, but I am responsible. Anyone who wears a badge and swore an oath to serve and protect their neighbors is responsible. We are collectively responsible and bound by oath not just to protect our neighbors with the power of the state but to protect them from the power of the state when needed.