ST. LOUIS (CBS St. Louis) — Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Wenjian Liu. Rafael Ramos.
These are just a few of the lives that have been claimed by officer-civilian shootings over the last three years. What happened during these incidents can be disputed — the fact that they’ve had an enormous impact on this nation cannot.
Though officer attacks and ambushes are rare, the effect of high-profile civilian deaths has drawn attention to the public perception of those working in law enforcement.
Amid all the tension, including an overwhelming amount of anti-police protests, is the desire to work in law enforcement diminishing?
Former Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender says he believes those who yearn to become police officers cannot be discouraged by the perceived national crisis.
“Police officers serve their communities because of an illogical commitment to public service. If prospective police employees are aimed at a career in policing, the national tension will not dissuade them. For current police officers, the national tension will likely solidify their commitment to the profession,” Allender told CBS St.Louis.
National President of the Fraternal Order of Police Chuck Canterbury takes a different stance. In addition to the general loss of officers considering law enforcement as a career, Canterbury says the pool of applicants has shifted.
“The recent events in many cities protesting law enforcement have also discouraged applicants because they know even if they do the right thing in a split-second decision that the media and others will spend years second-guessing them and many just feel that type of stress is not worth the meager salaries and reduction in benefits,” Canterbury explains. “Many cities are reducing the minimum standards to attract candidates and there is a general lack of applicants who have higher education or experience that is commensurate with the profession.”
A 2014 Reason-Rupe National Survey found that 50 percent of Americans don’t think police are generally held accountable for misconduct. Forty-one percent said they believe cases of misconduct have increased over the last decade.
Even among those experienced with police enforcement, opinions vary on how things have evolved over time. What the majority of those in the field can agree on is that something needs to be done to move forward in an effective and positive way.
“From the police perspective, I think what becomes overlooked is that politeness, professionalism, and empathy toward the public are not just some touchy-feely liberal concept used to coddle bad guys or mollify a hostile public. No, these qualities are essential characteristics of good policing. Police officers, given their authority and general job security, often don’t have to be polite. Cops are not fired for being rude. But the rudeness of one officer isn’t just harmful to the member of the public at the receiving end. Bad policing is harmful to all police officers,” Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and associate professor in the department of law and police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told CBS St. Louis.
At its core, both retired and active police officers feel community engagement is a key component to bridging the gap between the public perception of policing and the reality of policing.
“Police agencies must engage the communities they serve as public servants, not public rule enforcers. The legislative branch does not have the ability to pass laws, or eliminate them at a rate fast enough to keep up with the changing demands of society. Police officers must adapt to the role of community problem solvers,” Allender says.
Another crucial aspect is the engagement of community stakeholders and active dialogues between civic groups and the general public.
“We need to get back to the basics of policing. In policing our cities, we need to have beat officers who interact with all citizens and not just those having the worst day of their life,” Moskos told CBS St. Louis. “It’s the ability to talk to people — be those people criminals, victims, or just citizens going about their day — that is the most important skill of the job.”