Harry's Gang: We need police, yes, but we also need police reform
February 11, 2022
I’ve taught my kids that cops are the “good guys.” That cops can be trusted. If my kids find themselves in trouble, I’ve told them that the police will help them.
Of course, most cops look a bit intimidating to little kids. They’re in uniform, wear belts full of tools, including guns, handcuffs and stun guns, and sport shiny badges. They have the ability to arrest you and put you in jail.
I’ve taught my kids they have to show respect to the police. If an officer asks you to step aside, you do it. I remind them that cops are here to protect and serve. Not to harass and intimidate, even though sometimes it may seem that way.
Cops have a tough job. No citizen cheerfully accepts a speeding ticket or a fine for a petty offense, and most people who drive home after drinking too much are trying desperately to avoid getting caught by the cops — examples of ordinary citizens who would probably call themselves law abiding, but are still a little fearful of or intimidated by the police.
We can feel a little annoyed when they give us a ticket or pull us over. But that’s just part of the job we hired them to do.
Because of the important role law enforcement has in our society, their actions are under constant scrutiny, and when they make mistakes, it’s news. Last week’s city council action, where a Cloquet police officer was fired, and the fatal no-knock raid in Minneapolis bring police action to the forefront.
When things like that happen, it reminds me that we need to address the problems in law enforcement. It’s not easy. Police don’t like to be questioned or challenged, but sometimes it’s necessary. This is one of those times.
An overhaul in how we hire, train and retain police officers is needed, and soon.
The first thing we need to do is stop talking about defunding the police. “Defund the police” is crazy talk. There are plenty of people who believe that we don’t need police officers. Most of those people are criminals, at all levels. In fact, we need a team of government officials whose job is to enforce our laws and carry out the basic services police provide. We need police. Defunding them is not the answer. The problem is not that police departments have too much money. It’s that police don’t have enough oversight. Defunding the police does nothing to solve the problem.
Suggesting we hire non-officer staff to address specific issues that police encounter is not a slam on the police. For example, there’s nothing wrong with law enforcement employing social workers, as the county now does, when a social worker would provide a better response to a certain situation. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a professional driver, rather than a licensed peace officer, to lead funeral processions. Or, to hire a person to answer the phones rather than an officer, which some departments are also now doing.
I can understand why it’s hard to police the police. When you give a person a badge and a gun and send them out to patrol our communities, you don’t want to be constantly second-guessing their split-second decisions. After all, cops are usually dealing with criminals where anything can and does happen in avoiding arrest.
But take last week’s deadly raid in Minneapolis. In that case, an innocent man was killed by the police as they were executing a warrant. Our Constitution gives us the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. I’d say a no-knock warrant where an innocent person dies violates that right. Someone needs to be held accountable. While the cops who made the mistake need to be disciplined, the whole system worked together to cause that deadly raid. It needs reform.
The next thing we need to do is make it easier to discipline and fire police officers. That, too, will be tricky. I agree that police unions play an important role in law enforcement, and are necessary as a liaison between the government that employs them and the officers who are doing the work. But leaders in the police department need more flexibility in discipline and firing officers. Too often, unions protect the least effective officers. That has to stop.
Finally, we need to make sure that officers who serve honorably are well-compensated, with access to good retirement benefits and to proper health care, including care for the unique issues that law enforcement officers face, such as stress and other mental health issues.
I respect the brotherhood and sisterhood of law enforcement. Making it better and more responsive to modern society is a positive step.