Law enforcement is a dying institution. Policing has lost public trust, from the brutality of the police in images from Rodney King to Tyre Nichols to the fact that they seem incapable of preventing things like the thefts of catalytic converters. Most of the time what would be far more helpful to the average person is helping them with the impact of a crime — repairing something broken or replacing something stolen — much more than catching whoever committed the crime.
We know that the police are disproportionately violent against Black people, but no one is safe. The Washington Post has been tracking fatal police shootings since 2015, and 8,166 people have been killed by police. Of those, by raw numbers, 3,622 non-Hispanic white people have been killed, more than any other racial group. Police kill more than 1,000 people a year. All of these numbers are people who were someone’s parent, sibling, neighbor, child and friend.
Decent human beings are opting out of policing. The International Association of Chiefs of Police put out a report titled “The State of Recruitment: A Crisis for Law Enforcement.” The report details that few people are applying and the quality of those who do is often poor. It further stated that 50 percent of agencies reported having to change policies in order to increase the chances of gaining qualified applicants, meaning they had to lower their requirements to find people who could meet the requirements.
Whether it is lower standards or just the institution, we have all seen the way the people who participate in policing seem to think they are above the law, from brutality to minor violations like turning on lights to get through a red light or speeding on the highways or streets when there’s no apparent emergency.
In addition to breaking laws, sometimes law enforcement personnel flat out refuse to enforce our laws, like in 2020 when at least 20 county sheriffs in Washington refused to enforce new gun laws. More recently, police pushed back against some of the recent measures designed to reform their departments by refusing to respond or help with patient transport at least 51 times in October and November 2022.
For too long, law enforcement has been the hammer and every social problem has been the nail. Our families, neighbors or friends are not problems to be hammered upon, and we must envision more: We must do better. We must create responses that do more to meet human needs, like offering free counseling to victims of violence, building community centers to prevent crime and using infrastructure to keep people safe on the roads.
Read more of the Feb. 15-21, 2023 issue.