Opinion: Condemning Police Hides The Real Issues

by Patrick Haenni

Over the past month we have witnessed a constant barrage by the media vilifying law enforcement. We have seen countless politicians, celebrities, and even self-important members of our own community, trying to demonstrate their moral correctness by condemning the police. But it takes no courage to join in the popular rhetoric of the day, and it’s the much safer route than speaking out against this vitriol. Today I want to put aside the false narrative that has been pushed, and examine the information objectively.

Nationally, officers have millions of interactions with citizens throughout any given year. Only a small percentage of those exchanges result in the use of force. And of those, only a small percentage are found to be excessive. But it is this extremely small percentage that is unfairly held up by the media as the image of law enforcement. 

In Springfield, officers were involved in 187,002 police calls in 2019. During the same year, only 16 Class I complaints were made by citizens. Class I complaints would include any excessive force complaints. Not all Class I complaints involve excessive force, but assuming they all did, it would mean that citizens reported excessive force by the Springfield Police in only .008% of calls. Of those 16 complaints, only 4 were sustained, or .002%. 

Law enforcement officers are heroes to be lifted up, not demonized. But they are also imperfect human beings who, like all people, make mistakes.  When they do, or when they intentionally commit a crime, they should rightly be held accountable. But do we want the pendulum to swing so far that we now assume officers to be wrong almost immediately, while ignoring the actions of the suspects?

It has been estimated that over 1,000 law enforcement officers have been injured in the recent violent protests and riots.  These injuries will supplement the already high number of injuries and deaths that already occur to officers on an annual basis. (106 officers died on duty in 2018.) Theirs is a dangerous and thankless job in the best of times. Now they also get the bonus of being cursed at and spit on, assaulted during protests, and having rocks and urine thrown at them, among other things.  Who would want to join this profession now? Who is going to be left to protect your neighborhood?

Some groups have even suggested we defund, or eliminate police departments altogether, to the benefit of the black community. But this is a fallacy that falls outside the realm of reality. An ordered society cannot be maintained without a police force.  Minority populations would suffer most from the absence of law and order. I believe that a war on cops is nothing more than a rabbit hole leading us away from those real issues that have the most profound effects on the black community.

Several of these issues include the failures of our inner city schools and high illiteracy rate, the breakdown of family and the high number of single mother households, high unemployment rates, the disproportionate number of arrests and incarcerations, and black on black crime responsible for most of the 7,404 murders of black Americans in 2018. 

This is not a condemnation of the black community. Instead, we must ask ourselves what factors there are, and have been, that contribute to the information listed above. Factors that date back to slavery, the Jim Crow era, the introduction of the welfare system, and the 1994 crime bill, to name just a few. Some have created real inequalities still seen today. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

These are all topics that should be part of the discussion.  These are the issues that have and will continue to determine the fate of black America. But, in all honesty, there are few who wish to address these complicated issues.  It is simply too easy to blame the police. And because of this, when the marches are over and the politicians can gain nothing more from the protests, everything will reset back to the previous status quo, leaving the black community exactly where it was before.

It takes much more courage to look at the issues listed above and have real discourse about changes that need to take place within both communities. This is the only course of action that will result in any lasting change.

Patrick Haenni is retired from the Springfield Police Department.

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