Legal file: The application of the law in the news
by JOAN KORB
The most frequent demands over the past year have been to dismantle the police and reform the police. The call for police removal is a catchy phrase, but it is a dangerous concept, not an option. Reforming law enforcement is a necessity.
Some statistics put the role of the police in perspective. According to the FBI, 264 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2020. Of these, 48 were related to firearms, which occurred while officers were at work answering calls. typical.
In 2020, 1,127 people were killed by police, 96% of them by gunshot. Of those killed, 670 had firearms and 80 were unarmed. Of the unarmed, 27 were black, 15 Hispanic, and 31 white. Thirty percent of the U.S. population is black or Hispanic, but they account for 48 percent of all police murders, according to the 2020 Police Violence Report.
Law enforcement officers are trained to protect and serve, but most are not trained in psychology or social sciences. Many, however, have military training. Civilian law enforcement is modeled after the military, and this dependence was reinforced during the 1960s and 1970s with the addition of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units dressed in military equipment. After September 11, the police received more weapons, equipment and military vehicles.
The Door County Sheriff’s Department received an armored personnel carrier (an MRAP – mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle used in Iraq and Afghanistan in response to roadside bombs) in 2014. The photos of these vehicles deployed in cities during times of civil unrest have gone viral. Tall and intimidating, more at home in war zones than on Main Street America, they rarely help protect officers in violent situations.
America is not a war zone. Despite the proliferation of military-type weapons among the civilian population, it is time to reform this extreme military model of local police.
Some reforms include training officers in de-escalation techniques and racial prejudice. Another idea that needs to be resuscitated is community policing: a system that assigns police officers to particular areas so that they become familiar with local residents. Sturgeon Bay and Door County have a natural community policing system due to their size and the nature of the peninsula. Sheriff’s assistants, police officers, and MNR directors both live and work in the communities they serve. Trust grows, producing better results in crime prevention, transparency in law enforcement, and accountability of both officers and community members.
Although crime prevention and control are at the heart of policing activities, it must also be concerned with the quality of life in the neighborhoods served. The police cannot isolate themselves from the community. Until 2013, municipalities in Wisconsin could require agents to reside in the municipality in which they worked. The belief was that the police will be more sensitive and responsible for the needs of the communities in which they work if they also live there. It also makes them more adept at defusing conflicts between residents and the police.
Tragic examples of police isolation within communities are the recent deaths of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and George Floyd in Minneapolis. Few, if any, Brooklyn Park police officers reside in Brooklyn Park, and in Minneapolis, only 5.4% of officers live in Minneapolis.
Good results take time and resources. For the criminal justice system to function fairly and equitably, there must be funding to help communities tackle the root causes of crime rather than simply funding more force to respond to crime. All stakeholders must have adequate resources to meet the rehabilitation needs of offenders as quickly as possible.
Communities should have civilian oversight of police services that is representative of the community, and such oversight boards should not be hampered by outdated or inappropriate working agreements with law enforcement.
The law enforcement agencies are protecting us and we must protect the good officers so that they can eliminate the Derek Chauvins. To begin with, all agents should be mandated to wear body cameras and the video should be reviewed at random for “quality assurance”. In the vast majority of situations, body and on-board cameras show officers doing their jobs admirably and with restraint. Good officers are not afraid to watch themselves.
We need smart policing, well-trained police, and an understanding of what a good law enforcement officer is. Officers put their lives on the line every day. If law enforcement officers are not supported, we face a shortage of the excellent young women and men we need to enter law enforcement, which will put our communities at risk.
Joan Korb, of Egg Harbor, is a former Door County district attorney and assistant district attorney.