From an anecdotal perspective, it seems as if there are more cops getting in trouble these days than ever before. A Winder policeman was recently fired for having “hit” socially on a witness from an incident he covered. A Jefferson cop was fired for having literally hit someone in a bar after a night of drinking.
And all over the Internet and television are videos of cops beating or Tasering people under questionable circumstances.
So what’s going on with all of this?
Whether or not there are more problems today isn’t clear; what is apparent is that cell phone cameras and the increased use of patrol car cameras is documenting these incidents more than ever.
But the underlying problem isn’t technology, it’s the stress of the profession and the need for better screening, better pay and stronger leadership and training in some law enforcement agencies.
It’s long been known that stress is a key problem in law enforcement. Not only is there the stress related to the danger of the job, but also the stress of rotating shifts, frustration over court outcomes and the internal bureaucratic system endemic in many larger police agencies. Add to that relatively low pay and it’s a bad brew for problems.
The result of this chronic stress leads law enforcement officials to having some of the nation’s highest divorce rates, highest alcoholism rates and even high suicide rates.
Some would also argue that this stress leads some officers to crossing the line while on duty, reacting too aggressively when confronted with even minor incidents.
So what can be done about this?
First, over time law enforcement pay scales need to go up to be equal to the jobs. Among professional occupations, law enforcement pay is woefully low compared to the duties involved. Pay more to get better candidates to begin with.
Second, more psychological screening for possible aberrant personalities when hiring should be done. That costs money, but society deserves the best when giving someone the power to wear a badge and carry a gun. Not everyone can handle the psychological pressure of being in law enforcement; better to identify that before a problem gets created.
Third, law enforcement leaders have to work toward changing the “circle-thewagons” mentality that often exists at the street level in their departments. When cops are having stress problems, it’s often common knowledge among their peers, but goes unreported until something bad happens. Law enforcement department heads are often the last to find out they have a problem developing. That kind of closed culture needs to change.
Finally, there needs to be better training overall to prepare those who would be officers for the job. That includes stress management and building the basic skill levels so that officers don’t overreact under pressure.
Of course, in the current economy it’s difficult to find the funding to pay for some of these needs. Still, the quality of those hired in law enforcement is far more important than how fast their cars are or how powerful their guns.
The best tool in law enforcement is the brainpower and emotional intelligence of its men and women.
i agree with everything you wrote but I don't think you went far enough. I have been told by a friend in law enforcement in the Atlanta area that you will pass the police academy as long as when you start you are in half way good physical condition and you can read and write. I would love to see these men and women make more money but we have to make the requirments higher to get in and stay in. If we do this, then the people who graduate will be of higher caliber than what we have now (I am not dogging our current officers, just saying they could be better). These officers will eventually make it to supervisor positions and have a greater influence over the new officers who come in under them.
10/03/10 at 01:46 PM
We get what we pay for. Good quality help doesn't come cheap. If it did, no one would bitch about the lousy service at fast food restaurants.