Process vs. Person

Whenever a cop does something that can be perceived as “bad,” while on duty, there are two typical reactions from those whose first inclination is to side with law enforcement:  1) It was wholly or partially justified (see Michael Brown), and/or 2) This cop is a bad apple, and not representative of law enforcement as a whole.

There is some discussion of changes to law enforcement over the years, particularly the increase in use of SWAT teams and the effects of DOD programs that arm police departments with military gear.

Have these changes been thought through?  It doesn’t seem that way.  What are the goals of a local or state police force?  Surely more than seizing assets when possible and ensuring the safety of themselves first and the interests of the politically well connected second.  Or at least one would hope.

When there is a success in policing, like this Ferguson officer, it is presented much like the failures:  He’s a lone actor, a cult of personality out there doing good in his own little individual way.  From NYT:

Before, during and after that first night of violence, few law enforcement officials have done more on the ground to ease the volatility of protesters than Lieutenant Lohr, who is white. And few of his white colleagues have been able to connect with the largely black crowds better than he has.

After embracing the lieutenant, Mr. Williams was back at the barricades, his mask again covering his face. “We were having a conversation one day out here, and he seemed like a pretty decent guy, so I grew to like him,” said Mr. Williams, who is black and lives in Ferguson. “He’s the only one I feel comfortable being around. The rest of them — no, I don’t.”

Lieutenant Lohr, a Nashville-born former Texan and father of three with an Army-style buzz cut, is one of the commanders overseeing security at the Ferguson police station. He never wears riot gear, even when he wades into a group of protesters to answer questions, resolve disputes or listen to a stream of insults. Protesters at the gates ask for him by name, so they can make complaints, for example, about the use of tear gas or of officers being too aggressive in arresting a woman.

One night, he approached a woman who led protesters onto the street to block traffic. She looked at her watch.

“It’s 11:12,” she told him. “Give me to 11:15 with these folks out here.”

Lieutenant Lohr agreed, set a timer on his wristwatch and helped direct traffic around them.

Black residents here have long said that their outrage after Mr. Brown’s killing stemmed from the nearly all-white Ferguson police force’s poor community relations and what they said was its abusive and racially targeted practices. Lieutenant Lohr, to many of the protesters, is evidence that law enforcement officials have improved community relations at a divisive time.

That last sentence is really not the case.  Were there any other officers out there without helmets and somehow covering or obscuring most of their faces?  Not dressed in all black with their pants tucked into their boots?

This is a process issue, not a personality issue.  The police in Ferguson and really everywhere need to take a look at their goals and their mission in the community.  They need to start matching their actions with their intentions (assuming they are not intending to alienate the entire community, starting with the poorest and most marginalized groups).

The job of law enforcement should be first to do what Lt. Lohr is doing.  Purposefully, as a group.  Talk first.  Be respectful, even to those who are not respectful of you.  Aim to lessen the emotion and energy in scary situations.  Middle school vice principals all over the US know the importance and specific strategies for how to do this, both one on one and in groups.

Process, not personality.


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