Building a "more sensitive cop" for the 21st century

In the mad rush to blame the police for most of society’s ills during the current rounds of protests and riots, advanced progressive thinkers seem to be lining up quickly in terms of finding a solution. Clearly, they assert, we have too many of the wrong sort of cops. In the fashion typical of those who see every problem as a nail and themselves as a hammer, these same problem solvers rapidly conclude that we need to hire a large number of the right sort of cops and fundamentally transform the ones we already have.

This thinking seems to be on display with the opinions of Cedric Alexander this week at CNN.

For starters, we must enhance recruitment methods, provide initial — and continual — training in specific areas of cultural sensitivity, encourage police organization transparency, and build police department-community relationships that will foster the development of trust and true collaboration.

Police departments need to work much harder to build a workforce that is diverse, in that word’s broadest definition. And a police department demographic should closely represent that of the community it serves…

Training in cultural sensitivity and critical thinking are crucial to an officer’s performance. You cannot be an effective or ethical officer if you cannot think critically—that is, being able to gather and process information to guide decision-making that directly affects behavior. This skill can mean the difference between life and death for an officer or the person with whom he or she is interacting.

Cultural sensitivity training requires an understanding of the history of the community and its members, but it also requires officers’ personal reflections, so they are aware of their biases and allegiances and how these may influence their decision-making abilities and behavior.

This sort of thinking is dismaying in the extreme because it signals nothing short of a complete surrender to the notion of law enforcement as the enemy and the propagation of the racial stereotypes which we were supposedly trying to eliminate from our society. At what point did the forces of narrative journalism agree that it matters what race, gender, religion or sexual orientation any given police officer should be when upholding the law? This idea that the police force should “look like the community they protect and serve” conveys the thinly veiled message that if you are black or Latino, white cops can’t be trusted to act in your best interest. Imagine the howls of protest if a predominantly white community objected to the hiring of some number of black police officers.

If our goal is truly to live in a post-racial society, each police officer should (to borrow a famous phrase) be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Further, the entire system of American justice is predicated upon the understanding that all persons are equal under the law. When a crime is taking place, law abiding citizens should want it stopped without regard for the physical appearance of the officer responding to the call. Race based quotas for police work are no better of an idea than they are anywhere else, and are perhaps worse. This sort of thinking only serves to widen the racial divide in the country, not eliminate it.

The use of the phrase “cultural sensitivity and critical thinking” in this context is nothing but a set of code words implying that suspected criminals should somehow be graded differently based on their race and a comparative relationship with the race of the officer. Again, this is precisely the wrong message to send. The law is the law and it must be applied equally to all in order for it to work. When an officer is responding to a potentially dangerous situation which threatens the health or property of law abiding citizens, I personally don’t want them stopping to wonder whether or not they are being “sensitive” enough or if they will get in trouble for doing their job. They need to act as their training dictates, working to quickly and safely bring the situation under control, identify legitimate suspects and secure the area. How they respond can not be influenced by what the suspected perpetrator looks like. This turns the entire idea of law enforcement into a farce.

I grow weary of repeating myself on this score, but it apparently needs to be said yet again that, yes… there are bad cops. Find them and remove them, just as you would remove any incompetent or dishonest employee in other professions. But assigning blame to the entire profession based on the faults of a relative handful of bad actors is destructive. We hear the question repeated over and over about how hard it is to find and recruit good candidates in law enforcement. Perhaps we should look at how we are treating them for part of the answer.

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