Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Serve and Protect" or "Enforce and Collect" The Changing Character of Local Police

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Police come in two basic flavors, I was once told, the "serve and protect" peace officers and the "enforce and collect" officers. These represent (in overly simplified terms) two fundamentally different and incompatible philosophies that are competing for the heart and soul of the profession. I needn't mention which view is winning out since 9/11. Still, the drama playing out among departments also plays out within departments, which may account for some of the local police department infighting described in a recent WNYC News article and how it is costing New Jersey taxpayers. You might not see it at first, but so often the emotional motivations behind what seems like petty disputes are really underlying rifts involving fundamentally different world views. That's what I suspect is happening here in New Jersey and elsewhere around the country, although the WNYC article doesn't mention this.

Good Cop, Bad Cop: How Infighting Is Costing New Jersey Taxpayers

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


In the opening account in this article a female officer in Camden, New Jersey, is made Chief of Police. When she inspects the unmarked car that comes with her new promotion she discovers that one of her fellow officers planted crack cocaine in the vehicle to derail both her promotion and her career. Incidents like this reveal just how serious the clash of ideologies can be. In this case it may involve attitudes towards woman. In another example elsewhere in New Jersey an officer was handed a 30 day suspension for loosing an $8 Slim Jim. Such punishments often convey a more personal message. 

I had a good friend who spent his entire career in local police departments. He dedicated himself to serving the public. Sometimes that meant arresting people who endangered others or disturbed the peace, but it also meant engaging with people in the community and going the extra mile to help out local residents in a pinch. In small towns especially it isn't "all bad guys all the time". Narrowing the focus of police work to strictly law enforcement activity results in a jaunted view of the community. My friend was never cynical or jaded by his work, but his outlook on small town policing set him at odds with a segment of his fellow officers. It played out in many internal conflicts and seemingly irrational personnel decisions over the course of his career. In the end he retired early, in part because the hostility he felt in the workplace had taken its toll.

I have other police officer friends, some who are of the "enforce and collect" variety who received negative attention in their careers whenever they strayed a bit from that philosophy. Another person I know who aspires to be a police officer was turned off by the militancy and hardnosed cynicism built into the police training curriculum. Just what does the current police training curriculum look like these days? The public should be asking this question.

What all this really means is that the drama playing out in society as a whole between ultra-conservative ideologies and more mainstream thinking is also playing out in all our public institutions, including police agencies. Local departments are not immune to what affects society as a whole. What's different here is that even small, local police departments shun transparency. While they work for the public they tend to view us as civilians outside of their fraternity. It is hard to penetrate a Departments cultural view. At the same time, there is clearly money and military style equipment flowing into even local law enforcement agencies, which serves to alter the character of local policing.

These changes are real. What is missing, in addition to transparency, is a robust public debate on what role we want local police to play in our communities. Are we aware of the changes character of our local police departments and are we comfortable with those changes?

I just learned of a new report out by the ACLU on the militarization of our police. Of the report they say, "Our neighborhoods are not war zones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing, especially to fight the wasteful and failed drug war, which has unfairly targeted people of color.
You can read their report here:


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