Friday, December 5, 2014

Police and Public Opinion

Police and Public Opinion
By Michael P. Tremoglie

Police work is intrinsically reactive. A police officer is never called when things are going well. They are only called when there is a problem-usually a critical one. It is only natural that police receive the criticism that they do. After all, any occupation charged with the responsibility of bringing order out of chaos or enforcing the rules- from baseball umpires, to building inspectors, to referees, etc.- is going to be controversial.
An analogy can be drawn between police and their municipal cousins firefighters, who receive much less criticism and are far less controversial. Like police, firefighters are only called when there is a problem. Like police, firefighters restore order. Like police, firefighters have to take immediate action. The difference between what police do and what firefighters do is the nature of the circumstances. The object of the actions of firefighters is a fire, whereas the object of the actions of police is a human being. When human beings are involved, the probable outcomes of a given predicament increase exponentially.
Police officers have only a set of narrowly defined objectives- and a body of law that is continually subject to revision and interpretation- to guide them. Given the urgency of the plight in which police usually find themselves, it is a wonder that the police are able to perform their duties with as little controversy as they do. There is no question that often police are forced to act intuitively. Yet, this is not the characterization of police that is rendered to the public. The mainstream liberal media seem to think that police work is not important unless it is contentious.
There are thousands of acts each day that police officers perform that demonstrate compassion, competence, and fidelity. However, let a police officer make an error then a torrent of invective is let loose. Special interest groups that profit from police controversies begin campaigns demonizing police. their propaganda campaign is used to discredit the police thereby assisting in the settlement of substantial lawsuits.
These special interest groups like the the ACLU, Trial Lawyers Association, so-called social activists organizations are doing nothing more than disparaging the police for their own political or financial gain. So adroit are these groups at hatemongering and fear mongering that they are able to enlist the aid of a willing and compliant mainstream media. The result is that public opinion is swayed very easily against the police.
In such an environment the rank and file police officer cannot depend on politicians for support. They cannot depend on the media for a voice. However, neither can they disregard public opinion. For in the words of Abraham Lincoln " Public opinion in this country is everything."
The best way for police to deal with this assault on their image is by taking a proactive approach to public relations. Not the public relations done via the police administration, which is fraught with politics, but an effort, by the rank and file. There is a direct correlation between the public's opinion of police officers and the amount of financial resources devoted to police. Crime legislation is also affected by the public perception of police. If citizens feel that the police are brutal, incompetent, or corrupt, then the police will not receive higher pay, better equipment, favorable court decisions, and stricter legislation.

Unfortunately, police officers are very complacent. Generally speaking, the average police officer believes that rising crime rates will increase demand for their services. Police officers feel that the public will clamor for them and give them whatever they ask for when crime rates begin to soar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the December 1990 issue of U.S. News and World Report entitled " Cops Under Fire." An "expert" on crime said that there was " little correlation between the number of police on city streets and the rate of serious crime." The same article quoted a former police officer, turned college professor, as saying that police have little ability to affect crime rates.
Despite the fact that the theory that there is no relation between the amount of police and crime rates has been disproved time and again, the dominant liberal media continue to present these notions because they concur with their own anti-police prejudice. Unless police engage the debate over the effectiveness of police, the public will continue to be misinformed. 

Professor James Q. Wilson of UCLA, Professor John DiIulio of Princeton, and Professor Gary Kleck of Florida State are just some examples of distinguished academicians who favor increased police presence. However, it would be very difficult to find any quotes from them in the mainstream media. The onus is on the police to find a way for pro police views to be communicated to the average citizen.
The rank and file police must acknowledge that they must start being responsible for their image. This includes policing themselves. Stop protecting their corrupt and brutal colleagues. Admit to ethical lapses within the ranks. Proactively investigate illegal activity among their peers. In short, do not give their critics ammunition.
There is a void to be filled in the public discourse about police officers and police effectiveness. Police advocates need to fill that void. The battle against crime is won - not in the court of law - but in the court of public opinion.


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