Law enforcement careers are perhaps the most difficult to maintain. Many criminal and civil matters require attention and proper procedure. Over the past few years, our nation has witnessed a severe decline in public trust and confidence in typical police situations. Personally, I have respect for the badge but losing faith in how specific police procedures were and are handled. Deep down I am attempting to replenish my soul with support for those that wear the badge to keep my community safe by being an active advocate of my community. But I question if law enforcement, in general, has become too large of an enterprise business to handle the population for which it serves?
Decades ago the Los Angelas Police Department introduced the motto, “Protect and Serve.” That slogan was designed to serve as a mantra to regaining public trust within its community by maintaining a constant relationship with its people. Other law enforcement agencies began to implement the same slogan as a uniformed message that its department too, is accountable to the community. But I have a serious question about the literal belief of “protect and serve?” Isn’t Protect and Serve a universal statement of equality to servicing the community? There are programs to keep kids off the streets funded by many police agencies. But what about plans to prevent felons, first offenders, the homeless, mentally ill, sex offenders, race relations, LGBT, or other programs that make up a community? There are a sprinkling of departments that implement such programs but rarely do law enforcement agencies indeed protect and serve equally. The fact is that police have a business plan to surveil, investigate, create sting operations, traps and sometimes entrapments to snare wrongdoers. Wouldnt it be more cost effective and efficient if that protect and serve motto was put to the test to reconnect with the community and find some answers or redirection methods? Isn’t that what sociology and criminal justice degrees are intended to facilitate?
Perhaps a reason that law enforcement has grown and social worker jobs have declined is because there is a business model in place to keep offender growth high levels. It seems somewhat humorous that when a police chief speaks to a community about how its department has helped reduce crime, there always seems to be a motion for more money and resources for the growing threat to “out of control crime” in the area. It is somewhat like having a sale on an item only to mark it down but suddenly raise the price claiming the thing is about to run out. It is an amusing game that citizens should take a more significant look at.
Let’s face facts, police departments are too big and widely overfunded. Officers cannot be social workers, mental health physicians, community outreach, therapists, cat rescuers, and homeless advocates at the same time. But that is the design Americans have developed and wonder why mental health is a back burner? But law enforcement can be a resource to help facilitate and redirect to those programs. That is where protect and serve can be put to practical use. Instead of harassing sex offenders about homeless situations or where they can live or work one would think that protect and serve mantra would help an individual to assimilate to the community. Instead, police have unintentionally created its own barrier to communities by using rhetoric such as, “if you didn’t commit that crime you wouldn’t be in this situation.” The fact is that citizens help pay the salaries of police officers are sometimes the very ones left behind because nobody is protecting and serving that part of the community. To me, that is one of the reasons there is a low level of confidence with police. An officer substantiates and determines credibility by using a police check rather than trying to connect and find common ground. If police departments want to save some money, replace protect and serve with I only protect and serve if it comes over the radio. At least that is more realistic to today’s cultural standards.
Law enforcement is the first line of duty and protection of a community. Decades of growth and planning have increased agency funding taking away from social workers, qualified therapists, and dedicated physicians. Perhaps its time to trim police budgets and put that money into programs that help transition a community in need. Funding social worker agencies can and will help reduce recidivism rates. There should never be a fear of a badge to help another human being. Removing that badge and replacing with a listening person without an agenda that could lead to criminal charges is an excellent first step and reducing our enormous prison and probation population. Maybe now is the time to reassess protect and serve by allowing those with better qualifications to do their jobs rather than police.