A Retired Police Officer’s Plea
To all my brothers and sisters of the “Thin Blue Line” during this incredibly difficult and painful time in our history.
This is not the time to insulate ourselves from the public we serve and “hold the line” on the status quo. I’ve been a member of this family for over 22 years and I love knowing that I am making a difference in my community and for my neighbors but it is time for some long overdue change. Before you stop reading and yell at me for being a “left wing sell-out,” hear me out. We don’t have to agree but we do have to have the conversations to move our profession and our country forward.
I think we can all agree that the death of George Floyd was murder and that officer should have never been out there in the first place. And if the protests were solely about one cop and one murder, then I would agree the world has flipped upside down. The protests are not about Mr. Floyd’s murder, he was just the final spark that lit the fuse and blew open the powder keg we have been sitting on for the history of our profession. It is easy to separate ourselves from the protesters as they chant of “All cops are bastards,” All cops must die,” “Police are racists,” “Cops are murderers,” “Defund the Police,” and the list goes on and on and on, but we need to dig deeper and listen to what is behind the chant. It makes me scared and I am sick to my stomach when I hear these things and see our beautiful cities burning and my friends working so hard to mend relationships and further the conversation just to have to face agitators again on the same day.
We need to be able to hear what is behind the chants and see where the anger and hostility is truly coming from. I tell my recruit officers, on the first day of their academy, if they are not ready to be the face of the government for all the good and bad then this is not the place for them. As law enforcement officers we are responsible to enforce the laws and ordinances enacted by the legislative branch of our government and are required to act. When laws become unpopular or the disparate impact is shown, the public face of the government (law enforcement) is held to task. We are the visible arm of the government responsible (and we always have been) for enforcing laws which disproportionately affect our minority and poor populations. So, when our citizens rise up against these laws, they rise up against us. We must take the time to recognize the systemic racism in the laws we are required to enforce. Since the beginning of this country, law enforcement has been the arm to government responsible for “keeping the minorities in check.” We have run down fugitive slaves (in every state, not just the South), we forced Native Americans (along with the military) onto reservations, we rounded up Japanese Americans and put them in camps, we enforced Jim Crow and segregation laws, we embraced Senator Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill which poured billions of dollars into our profession and we happily took military surplus to fight Congresses battle against drugs. I don’t claim to have the answers but while Congress and State legislative bodies rush to pass “Police Reform” bills they also need to pass bills which remove us from “Morality Policing.”
If we want to step forward as a society, let’s stop arresting people for addictions, lets get out of the de-toxification business and leave that to the experts. We need to legalize [marijuana](if you’re a cop and you’ve made it this far, don’t be a hypocrite — I’ve heard your high school stories) and de-criminalize addiction. We need to step up mental health services and not have police be the first and only contact someone suffering a mental illness has with the government. If our elected legislators can bravely tackle these issues (much of where the disparate impact and biased policing exists) then by all means take some of the funding for the police and put it toward treatment. Let’s mend our country and get policing back to protecting property and people from the actions of others, not themselves.
Republished from LinkedIn with the author’s permission.
Officer Michael Harvey (Ret.) spent more than two decades as a police officer in Virginia. He’s now the executive director of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Training Academy and a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police and other criminal justice professionals working to fix the justice system.