This is the latest column by a veteran Southeast Michigan police officer who’ll be identified after he retires in the next few years. He answers reader questions and provides perspective on law enforcement.
Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
By the Anonymous Cop
I was asked recently what has changed in policing because of the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s a big question with a lot of facets.
Books will be written about the many issues encompassing society, policing and the BLM movement. Countless professors, public pundits, talk show hosts, community activists and police executives all have an opinion, and here’s mine:
Nothing in policing has changed since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Now “nothing” can be both good or bad. If you ask “what’s on fire?” and the response is “nothing,” then that’s good. But if you ask about what’s being done to solve an important problem – like systemic racism, individual racism or professional indifference to racism – and the answer is “nothing,” that’s bad.
Let me explain by first looking at some policing history.
Twenty years ago, when high crime rates were capturing the public’s attention, officers thought it was their duty to fight crime. Communities and residents still ask their departments to reduce and fight crime, but demands have expanded – rightly – and our society wants law enforcement to have credibility and connection with residents, community members and beyond.
All of those actions are important. But whether a department or officer is good or bad depends on when they started listening to more voices – especially BLM -- about the role of law enforcement. Remember, we exist to serve the community.
Unwilling to Hear
For a bad department or officer, the voices of the BLM movement have fallen on ears that have been deaf a long time. Those cops – like many people, unfortunately – have always resisted change.
They say a phrase I always hate: “Well that’s how we’ve always done i.t. What they mean is they learned to fight crime one way 25 years ago from old racist cops who themselves learned from old cops 25 years previously. So the officers are working off of 50-year-old techniques and bias.
They still use choke holds.
They still stop the same “type” of suspect.
They are still not held accountable.
Departments run the same way because the same type of officers are in charge, using policies that haven’t been updated in 50 years. The same discipline procedures hold no one accountable. They also have the same minimum training requirements, the same goals of hiring new officers that look like them and share the same background.
They find no benefit in body cameras, de-escalation training or an inclusive department staff. So BLM changes nothing for them.
Flip side: Changes came long ago
For good departments (and I consider mine one of these) and their officers, nothing has changed solely because of BLM because we started listening early on. We happily embrace car cameras and body cameras to record interactions with the public.
We haven’t trained with choke holds in 30 years. We routinely conduct new, varied training that includes scenario-based use of force, cultural awareness, dealing with mental health challenges.
Our policies are reviewed and updated every two years. We have clear guidelines for officer conduct with fair, consistent discipline. A good example of a department that is professional in every aspect and has great community credibility is the Ferndale Police Department. [Ferndale Police Department Receives Prestigious Accreditation]
Good departments work hard to hire officers that reflect the community. My community is not filled exclusively by white males from middle-class backgrounds, which is why I have spent over half of my career recruiting officers who are not like me.
Staff inclusiveness is one of the strongest tools we have in relating with our community. The first place I look for good officers is where it all starts: at good police academies. We actively recruit from progressive programs like the Washtenaw Community College Police Academy.
So it’s good and bad that “nothing” has changed. Bad departments and bad officers haven't been changed at all by the Black Lives Matter movement, but they better start listening. Good departments and officers don’t need to change, but we can never quit listening.
Please keep sending questions to email@example.com and I'll answer as honestly as I can.
► Support our reporting by becoming a Deadline Detroit member for as little as $3 per month.
- Why Do Cops Kill Dogs? We Don’t Like to Get Bitten
- Capitol Police Were Right Not to Shoot During Insurrection
- Join me: It's a Great Job. Seriously.
- Asking Us for Mental Health Services Daily, Even Hourly, Is Wrong
- Candid Answers for Your Police Questions
- A Reader Asks Why We Shoot to Kill
- Why I Write This Column