As a former police chief, let me tell you why I support the Father’s Day rally against the “stop and frisk” policy of the New York Police Department.
Last year, the NYPD conducted 685,724 “stop and frisk” inspections of people in the street. This was an increase of 600 percent since Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office. All told, the NYPD has stopped persons more than 4 million times, even though in nine out of 10 instances these individuals were completely innocent.
As the New York Civil Liberties Union notes, these stops “overwhelmingly target young men of color. Indeed, black and Latino young men between the ages of 14 and 24 simply cannot walk in any New York City neighborhood without risking an intimidating and unjustified police encounter.”
This is no way to conduct police business.
Police should not be assuming that huge numbers of our youth are suspects simply because of the color of their skin. The job of our police is to gain both our respect and support, and you don’t do that by alienating entire groups of people.
To assure safe streets, you need community policing, with officers who know the neighborhoods intimately. Unfortunately, community policing seems to be falling out of favor, as too many of our police departments adopt a military mindset, with their city’s own population (or at least part of it) viewed as the enemy.
Our nation does not need police with a military mindset. That is not the way forward.
I spent four years on active duty in the Marines, and I can tell you that I had to change my thinking when I joined the police. Soldiers protect nations; police protect rights. There’s a big difference.
In fact, close police-military relationships can quickly divert police from their mission of peacekeeping and the protection of rights. This is obvious when we account for the equipment our police possess today — body armor, masks that hide identity, fully automatic weapons, grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers.
I hope such equipment will not be on display when more than 200 civil rights and civil liberties and racial justice groups gather at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the northern edge of Central Park for a silent march.
It’s about time we in America started thinking about what’s happening to our nation’s police and do something about it.
David Couper is a former police chief in Madison, Wis., and the recent author of “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police.” He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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