Cleanup on Aisle Four: Policing in America Today

Hopefully, as people appreciate and understand what their public servants do for them on a 24/7 basis, more of them will appreciate police officers for what most of them are — good people who want to help others.

A while back, I noted an Internet video that involved officers who had helped save a young person.

I haven’t seen it since — and I’m not at all surprised.

But if those same officers had used forced that was perceived — “perceived” being the key word here — to be excessive, I would likely still be watching snippets of it along with lots of negative commentary by national media talking heads on the state of policing in our nation.

Depending on the location of the incident, there's a good chance that protesters would be marching — with many of those marchers coming in from different parts of the country.

We could probably count on the usual suspects providing Twitter commentary about how "bad" the cops are. One serious concern from all these contentious and over represented events is that it presents a one-dimensional aspect of policing as if it is the essence of an officer’s typical day.

The reality of policing is that less than one per cent of contacts with the public involves any kind of use of force — lethal force accounting for a fraction of that one percent. Catching bad guys that may sometimes involve physical force is often synonymous with the "protect" portion of the "protect and serve" motto but it is the “serve” aspect that often overlooked and really involves the bulk of police work.

Like the sound of an overhead speaker in a grocery store announcing a spill in aisle four, cleanup is a regular component of the American police model. Whether it is responding to a car crash or a crime scene, an officer is tasked with getting control of a situation, finding out what happened, and helping get things back to normal.

The officer must often do this in places that are still dangerous, and at times when emotions are high. And that cleanup doesn’t end after clearing the scene because today’s cop may not only write a report about what happened but is tasked more and more with data collection and documentation of their interactions with the public. That work often becomes part of national studies and strategies on how to make us all safer.

Besides cleaning up messes, today’s officers are finding themselves challenged with finding ways to better serve their customers who are suffering with mental health problems.

This ongoing crisis — which includes the homeless problem as well as the opioid epidemic — forces officers to confront society’s often-overlooked citizens. These interactions require officers to find temporary solutions for people with problems that require comprehensive and long-term assistance.

Despite their limitations, it is often the compassionate encounter with a cop that gets a person at least pointed in the right direction to heal and thrive

Cops and kids have always had a special bond — and that relationship continues to this day.

Officers engage with children at very young ages in Safety Town programs and try to deter them as they get older to avoid gangs and drugs. With more officers actively serving in schools, they have an opportunity to develop trust which can carry into adulthood. That trust will get certainly get tested at times as people of all ages are bombarded with negative presentations of police on social media.

Whether an officer is engaging in preventive patrol, responding to a complaint or helping someone, they will do so under some taxing environments which include working odd and unhealthy hours, being exposed to infectious diseases and seeing people do mean things to themselves and others. It will take its toll on them as more officers die from suicide than line of duty deaths and on average will die a decade sooner than other Americans.

This is only a thumbnail sketch of the complexity of police work — beyond the use-of-force narrative that has captured the attention of so many Americans over the last couple of years.

Hopefully, as people appreciate and understand what their public servants do for them on a 24/7 basis, more of them will appreciate police officers for what most of them are — good people who want to help others.

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