​​​​​​​​​Arthur P. Meister

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Black Lives Matter Issue

The push to reform law enforcement in the shadow of recent police shootings and some university studies may help improve police services, but doesn’t address the whole problem.  When it comes to drawing conclusions from statistics or a few examples of misconduct, it is important to consider a much broader perspective.  

Police agencies have been reforming and changing for decades. Community relations efforts are now commonplace, information sharing and technology have improved, educational levels of police have risen, training regimens have expanded, Professional Standards Certification has evolved,  and all kinds of approaches (Broken Windows, gun buy back initiatives, New York City’s Compstat, mentoring and outreach programs, Police Athletic Leagues, and minority recruitment, etc.) are examples of police efforts to improve their competence and quality of service in cities across the U.S.  What many may see as overly aggressive policing to address excessive murder among young men of color should also show that Black lives DO matter, and are not ignored as a true bias would imply. Stop and frisk as a policy was meant to address guns and violence, and not to harass or discriminate.  However, the number of minority lives saved as a result is quite compelling in a number of jurisdictions. 

Profiling is an ugly term too often applied to acts that when assessed from a larger perspective, could be considered common sense.  Most data does not capture the nuances and special circumstances that are part of every police/citizen interaction.   There are intuitive things a trained officer sees that a lay person may not that often prompt stops and searches.  General demeanor in terms of non-verbal animus. furtiveness, evasiveness, certain dress, mannerisms, insignia, and tattooing can play a role.

Every single day there are hundreds - if not thousands - of potentially deadly confrontations with police that are resolved without major incident.    From interrupting a burglary, stopping a suspicious vehicle, chasing a suspect on foot, minor scuffles, serving warrants,, handling domestic quarrels, or approaching a poacher in the woods; all are a testament to law enforcement professionalism in a culture where most must be presumed armed, and too many prone to resist.  Where are the statistics for officers exercising too much caution who are killed for doing so.

However, what hasn’t changed is the poverty, joblessness, addiction and mental health challenges, and little hope and opportunity in too many minority enclaves.  It has accelerated African American family disintegration that feeds youth disenchantment, truancy, gang membership and an upsurge in black on black violence.  It creates a specter of minority dangerousness, both real and imagined. 

And, what about those in minority communities who purposely feed this discord for personal or political gain, who openly foster the conflict between races in the same way of those they rage against?  “Don’t God Bless America, God Damn America… What do we want, dead cops!”  A competitive and sensation driven media too often helps them drown out the more rational and legitimate sources.  What can be done to “reform” all that?  

One of the most dangerous aspects of enforcing the law is the encroachment of cynicism.  Law enforcement is an adversarial job and always will be.  When one is overexposed to the negative aspects of the human condition as police officers too often are, mental defenses tend to subdue feeling and empathy.  There is a constant undercurrent of antagonism and mistrust that impacts officers in ways few seem to consider, and even less is done to address. 

Let’s not forget a larger picture at play here, too.  The undertone of violence in our culture is formidable. From cartoons, video games, TV, motion pictures,  sporting events, to advertising and political debate, there is a constant undertone of bravado, confrontation, violence, murder, and messaging that conflict is cool.  Everyone sees the correlation between the internet and the ability of ISIS to radicalize young disenchanted minds, but ignore the quid pro quo between a media driven violent subculture, the internet and how social media combine to influence acts of violence and atrocity by the weakest among us.

It’s time to take a deep breath, and look at this issue from all perspectives before throwing anymore logs on a large enough fire.  Every profession has its few who should not be.  There is more to this than the very few besmirching the value and good intentions of so many on both sides of this issue.

The author, Arthur P. Meister, is a 38 year veteran of law enforcement.  He retired from the FBI in 2002, after having served as Chief of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), in Quantico, Virginia.