If Men Were Angels, No Police Would Be Necessary. Police Are Necessary.

By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

Those who espouse leftist ideals tend to believe there is some utopian balance that is possible in which a benevolent government provides everyone’s needs resulting in a peaceful coexistence. No need for police in that world. In contrast, in the words of Alexander Hamilton (or maybe James Madison) in Federalist Paper # 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary”. The Founder’s construction of government, derived from the Judeo-Christian world view (and experience with actual humans), assumes that there are a lot of people who are up to no good.

Until that perfect day, one might wonder what an ideal police agency would be like from the perspective of a police officer. Imagine!

Personality and Policy Leadership

We all like the idea of a great Chief. That brave soul with internal fortitude, charisma, loyalty to the officers, fair but firm, tried and tested on the mean streets, and a diplomat who charms the public and elected officials.

The policies and procedures are developed from reliable data and best practices. They are free from political pressure, applied uniformly regardless of  fear or favor, and they are clear and well understood throughout the organization.

That great Chief is also someone we would see working a shift every so often.

Supportive Funding

Agencies whose funding bodies recognize the cost efficiencies of supplying adequate and redundant equipment and technology gain more than just those assets. Retention rates will be higher, injury claims will be lower, citizens will be safer, and crime will be reduced. Far sighted planning and communication result in informed law makers. Informed law makers create budgets that are mission oriented and save costs and lives in the long run.

The ideal funding does not rely so heavily on grants that major one-time purchases are not sustainable. Things wear out, need upgrading, need integration with existing or future equipment, and eventual replacement. The ability of planners to keep hardware and technology current relies on a foundation of reliable funding rather than frequent begging.

Mission Clarity

Not everything is a police problem. Armed government agents with specialized training and specialized equipment are not the necessary response for every call for service. In an effort to be all things to all people, fueled by misguided perceptions of community policing and law enforcement’s ubiquitous 24 hour availability, law enforcement has created an expectation that they will solve every problem imaginable.

Cops want to help. They want to have opportunity for positive contacts. They like solving problems. And we all recognized that the simplest call can turn bizarrely deadly. Barking dogs can mean burglars, a lost child can mean murder, a stalled motorist can be a fleeing felon. Most police experts are quite nervous about sending social workers as first responders and unarmed civilians making traffic stops. But the idea of stepping back and asking what the unique role of our police officers is has merit.

If a city wants to make it illegal to sell untaxed cigarettes, then gets outraged when that law is enforced, then either the law itself must change or the manner of upholding that law must change. If a state wants mandatory seat belt wearing, they must ask whether it wants its armed agents to be seizing motorists to see that they are safely buckled up.  As Hamilton (or Madison) says “you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  The liberty interests of the public, the safety of enforcement agents, and the trust in governance are factors that are too often ignored in assigning tasks to the police.

Officers First

I have often stated that a police leader’s first customer is not the citizen, but the officer. It is the leadership who teach the line officers how to treat their citizen customer. That is accomplished by example. How that looks in our ideal police agency is fair and impartial treatment, appreciation of effort, opportunity to solve problems creatively, relevant training, and holistic attention to the physical, mental, financial, and social health of every team member.

Not a Dream

The most fascinating part of imagining our ideal police world is that maybe it is possible to achieve. Without the vision, the reality we hope for will never come.

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