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The Changing of the Guard

by on December 29, 2014

There has been something bugging me about how unimaginative our country is in policing our major urban cities.  Ever since property became a major thing to protect we have had the system of policing that we do now.  Where we have a police force, with several police stations throughout the city, and the officers patrolling the streets looking for “wrong doers”.  Obviously it is much more complicated than this from a police officers position, but from a normal civilian position this is exactly how it appears.  And as cities begin to grow and become more crime ridden police officers start to look more militarized, and police stations begin to look more like fortresses, and the police force starts to look more like an “occupying force”, which is a point made in many periodicals and blogs.

With family members and friends that are police officers I really can’t stand the scrutiny they are under and the general mistrust and fear the public has in them.  I know they are all amazing people who do deserve respect and trust and it disheartens me that it has come to this point in this country, where the general public fears them more than trusts them.  So I find myself awake at 4:30 in the morning writing this because I woke up with an idea on how to change this perception and how to demilitarize the police force and I simply couldn’t fall back asleep without getting pen to paper, so to speak.

Ruralizing the Urban Police Force

In small towns across the U.S. you have the saying that everyone knows everybody because the town is so small that you end up eventually going to school, or going to work, or shopping at the same stores with mostly everyone in the town.  So the idea here is that you also know who the town’s police officers are and the police officers also know who you are.  Call me naive or call me silly, but I think this could be an important factor in why we see white people being arrested at a lower rate than black people for non-violent crimes.  Demographically speaking the poor white sector in this country is spread out across the thousands of small rural towns and the poor black sector is concentrated in the urban ghettos.  So do you think that knowing the person that you respond to on a “call” might not result in an arrest, or an accidental shooting because you may have more trust in that person from knowing just a little bit about them and their family?  This could be a major factor in why we see such a large race discrepancy in drug arrests in this country and other non-violent related arrests.

Contrast this to the urban areas of our country, where the police officers typically have to live in that city, but because the city is so large there is no possible way for them to know on any given day who the person is they have to respond to on any type of “call” they go on.  So when they do have to respond in any situation they have little to no knowledge of who the person is that they are dealing with, this puts both the officer and the civilian in a situation of mistrust and fear from the onset.  Our urban police structure is dooming our police officers before they even start training at the academy.

Time to Get Creative

So how is it possible to get larger urban areas to become more ruralized in this country?  How do we get our police officers to become more trusted and less feared, and how do we get police officers to trust and know the civilians they protect?  This is where I ask police officers to constructively criticize what I am about to propose and tell me if I am way off here or if this could possibly be something.

In Chicago we have exactly 50 Alderman and 50 wards, and on any given day a civilian can get access to that Alderman just by going into the Alderman’s office (some are more accessible than others).  The elected Aldermen typically are very visible and very active in their communities and typically live in the ward that they represent, and thus they are the local official that is known and trusted by residents and business owners.  These Aldermen are also being paid about $115,000 a year to do this, which is a damn good salary in any major city in the U.S.

In Chicago we have about 12,250 police officers and 2,000 other employees that make up the police force, and their median salaries come out to near $55,000 per year.  Typically speaking, police officers aren’t as active or as visible in street clothes as an Alderman is.  And there is no way any civilian can expect them to be, as that is not their job to do so, and they are not paid enough to expect this.

But what if we were to have police officers have more involvement in the ward they serve?  What if we were to drastically reduce the size of the police force and pay them near the equivalent of an Alderman?  Let’s say on average we had 50 police officers assigned to each ward, where certain crime ridden wards had more police officers and other less crime ridden wards had less police officers.  Right there we cut the size of the police force to about 2500, which I am sure the police union would not be to happy about, but then again a raise to $100k per year could be rather convincing to laying off almost 10,000 people.

Obviously this would also call for drastic changes in the daily duties and usage of a police officer (community policing), there wouldn’t be a typical 8 hour shift anymore.   In addition to an officers typical 8 hour day they would also need to adapt more Alderman like roles in getting to know their wards civilians more and to make them a more trusted and less fearful police force.   They would also need to live in the ward they serve as it would give them the incentive to be more invested in that ward, and having a higher salary would also recruit better officers.  Police officers and Alderman actually have one major cross over responsibility in major cities, and that is to protect personal property for residents and business owners, so why is that in Chicago they aren’t working more closely together on this?

As this idea is very fresh, and evolving and I want it to be open to criticism, I am going to leave it very vague as to invite discussion and ideas on how this could be accomplished.  So if you are reading this from my Facebook feed or stumbling upon it from a google search please leave a comment below as to your thoughts on this.

I also found this to be rather refreshing from the Nashville Police Chief:

“As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us. Unfortunately, there is even more of a human tendency to stay within our comfort zone by further narrowing those associations to those persons who share our thoughts and opinions. By doing this we can avoid giving consideration to thoughts and ideas different than our own. This would make us uncomfortable. By considering only the thoughts and ideas we are in agreement with, we stay in our comfort zone. Our own biases get reinforced and reflected back at us leaving no room for any opinion but our own. By doing this, we often convince ourselves that the majority of the world shares opinion and that anyone with another opinion is, obviously, wrong.

It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter. We can still disagree and maintain our opinions, but we can now do so knowing that the issue has been given consideration from all four sides. Or, if we truly give fair consideration to all points of view, we may need to swallow our pride and amend our original thoughts.

And, it is only by giving consideration to the thoughts of all persons, even those that disagree with us, that we can have an understanding as to what constitutes a majority.”

  1. Idea is spot on – the closer to the neighborhood (a member of the community is best) – but actuallizing this would be difficult due to existing power structures. Police are always going to say – they want to do the right thing – funny how that is usually what is most comfortable to them. I’d also like to see some work within the culture of police forces towards making it more admirable to rid yourself of corrupt/bad cops than it is to “stick-up for one of your own”

  2. Mark Fabian permalink

    Great idea. But, the genie is out of the bottle; doubtful the powers-that-be would help to shove it back into the bottle.

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