Who Serves Whom?

UnknownI have been thinking this week about the struggle going on regarding PERF’s call to “raise the standard” with regard to the “objective reasonableness” deadly force standard of USSC Graham v. Connor.

If Sir Robert Peel was right, that the “people are the police and the police are the people” and that police use of force in inversely related to public cooperation and support, then I ask, “Why is there an argument?”

Wouldn’t it be better to reduce use of force if it builds trust and legitimacy in the community? Are police to be treated differently than the community from which they are recruited?

Let’s take a look at some civic principles: In a democracy, people elect persons to represent them (majority rules with Constitutional protections) — people like mayors. Mayors (or an appointed police commission) appoint persons to be in charge of public safety — like police chiefs.

Police chiefs then work for mayors on behalf of the electorate, manage subordinate police, set policies, hire and promote, promulgate rules, create training programs, and establish standards of police conduct.

So who does the police chief have to listen to? The mayor? His or her officers? The community? In a free society the answer is all three. While there exist many varied, and sometimes conflicting, voices among these interest groups, it is the job of a chief of police to discern those voices and how they will impact the direction of the police all while keeping the actions of the police within the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

So if the public wishes their police to reduce their use of deadly force in the community, that is, to raise the current standard, can the police chief simply say that changing the standard would compromise the safety of his or her officers and that’s the end of the discussion?

I don’t think it should work that way.

What do you think?