In recent months, as tension has risen between the law enforcement community and many of the people it serves, police have reported that their jobs have gotten harder. “Before it was just criminals that didn’t like you,” says a police officer in Florida. “Now everybody believes we’re the bad guy.”
With more than 350 million firearms in the U.S., police officers say they face the threat of being killed every day and must make split-second decisions, which can then be endlessly second-guessed in videos that go viral.
“One of the worries that cops have is that no cop can control what another cop does, but all cops will be judged by what the other cop does,” says Brandon del Pozo, the police chief in Burlington, Vermont. “We’ll sit there . . . watching police videos all over the country, trying to make sense of what we’re seeing and trying to make sure we’re doing the best job we can.”
What happens now? For starters, a growing number of police departments are training officers in how to defuse volatile situations before force becomes necessary. Such training teaches them to use time and distance to resolve tense interactions. (Last year, top American police officials visited Scotland—where 98 percent of police do not carry guns—to learn how officers there handle confrontation.)
The federal government has also funded body cameras for officers in more than 30 states. Body camera proponents say that officers will be more mindful of their actions if they know they’re being recorded. In addition, a presidential task force has released ideas for building trust between police and communities. (One suggestion, for example, is to create citizen advisory boards to provide input and oversight for local police departments.)
But the pace of change is slow and hostility remains. “There is no doubt that police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused, and there is no doubt that minority communities . . . still feel like it just takes too long to do what’s right,” Obama said in July. “I think it is fair to say we will see more tension between police and communities this month, next month, next year, for quite some time.”
Following the violence this summer, Obama invited Black Lives Matter activists and police officials to meet at the White House. “We still need many in law enforcement to recognize that action needs to happen,” activist Rashad Robinson said afterward. “What we heard was a willingness to listen, which means that we need to continue to raise everyday people’s voices.”
Adapted from The New York Times