The 24-hour news cycle provides no shortage of incidents that illustrate the need for police reforms to our current system, the most recent and tragic example being the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
After the shooting, shocking news broke that the school resource officer, who was armed, failed to enter the school to pursue the shooter. And it now appears that three other Broward County deputies who were at the school did not enter, according to responding officers from nearby Coral Springs.
This begs very real and serious questions when it comes to police reform. How can we better prepare police officers to serve and protect? When advocating for reform in any profession, the advocate’s perspective dictates what the reform should look like. As a conservative, a retired police officer and a former director of a police academy, my interest in policing reforms involves improving a profession I greatly respect, not tearing it down.
The reforms that are applicable to the colossal failure in Parkland are the same needed in response to the recent tragic shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Mesa, Arizona.
Hiring and training practices must ensure that our nation has the most effective people serving as police officers. What this looks like might be a little different in every jurisdiction, as each community has its own unique needs and priorities, but there is an important need for a rare balance and skill set in this profession. A police officer must be compassionate, capable of thinking critically, not easily offended or excited, physically and mentally fit, and capable of using restraint or force (including deadly force) if needed.
That is a tall order, to be sure. Any deviation from the proper balance sets up the potential for catastrophic failure. Police officers may go years or even an entire career without encountering the particular incident that is a perfect storm of dysfunction when combined with their particular skill deficiency. When it does happen, we get tragic headlines as seen in Parkland, Tulsa, or Mesa.
The role of a police officer is to protect personal rights and maintain peace. Both functions are carried out through the enforcement of laws, but it doesn’t end there. The police are, or should be, as much a part of the communities they serve as they are a part of the government.
The complex individual that makes up an outstanding police officer may be difficult to find, and even harder to hire. Thankfully, there are already innumerable examples of such a combination on our streets today actively serving as police officers.
Much of what a police officer does could be done by most citizens. It takes no particular skill to write a report, issue a ticket, or check a door. It’s the rare occasions when a police officer’s unique skills are needed that are precisely why we have highly trained police officers. They are very expensive insurance policies for when things go very bad. However, the same characteristics that can make an officer functional on the more mundane component of policing are not always found together with the requisite characteristics for the exceptional, dangerous component. An imbalance of either gives us demonstrated results: shooting people we should not shoot or not shooting people we should. Both situations are unacceptable.
The failure of a police officer (or officers) to go in to confront an active shooter, as we saw in Parkland, can be caused by several factors. Hopefully, new details will come to light and the full story can be examined so our police forces can prevent future tragedies. Until then, hiring the right people, training them the right way, involving the public in policy development, and monitoring the culture within the agency are additional policing reforms that are relevant to every community, not just in the aftermath of a tragedy, but in order to avoid it.
The complex individual that makes up an outstanding police officer may be difficult to find, and even harder to hire. Thankfully, there are already innumerable examples of such a combination on our streets today actively serving as police officers. Simple policing reforms allow communities to make sure those courageous and capable officers are surrounded by others just like them. They are not looking to make headlines, and should not be equated with the few, misguided officers who become nationally recognized for all the wrong reasons. There are more of the “right ones” out there. We just need to find them and train them right.