Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Law Enforcement That Wins Respect for Law

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Law Enforcement That Wins Respect for Law

Article excerpt

RODNEY KING is not the only victim of the beating that so unnerved this country. The four police officers are also victims, as are all young police officers who get thrown onto the streets without appropriate or adequate training for enforcing and representing the law.

Police training must make officers aware that the way they portray the "system" is the key to their ability to maintain social order. Police officers create the first and most pervasive impressions of the law, and are the only part of the justice system many people will ever see.

The violent reaction to the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King is a dramatic example of what happens daily in poor urban neighborhoods nationwide: Insensitive police behavior fosters anger, resentment, and distrust of the system; lawlessness results. The problem is especially acute in poor minority neighborhoods, where our country's history of racism has conditioned people to expect that the system will not work for them. Rather than promote social order, police behavior too often disrupts the peace by inciting hostility.

Before we place all blame on the police, however, we must try to understand their perspective. Police officers often are thrust into inhospitable environments without proper preparation. The paramilitary socialization process they experience as cadets, emphasizing a macho approach to problem-solving and failing to provide an understanding of human behavior, does not teach cadets to act in a just manner.

Police officers' training emphasizes order, discipline, and strict adherence to rules. A military atmosphere is created through inspections, a hierarchical chain of command, and demand by superior officers for unquestioning respect. Police officers are trained to be troops always ready to battle the enemy.

But who is the enemy? Racism and stereotyping causes officers to see entire neighborhoods as hostile territory. Yet these are the very people the police are supposed to protect. Furthermore, police officers are representatives of a government that is supposed to serve the people, not fight them. …

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