So you’re a police employee. It’s probably fair to say that more than most professions, people who see you have a preconceived notion about you. Some view you with adoration. Others with scorn. Still more are ambivalent, quick to say that there are bound to be “good” and “bad” people in every profession. But how do you perceive yourself? And more to the point: Are you in control of your life?
As a police employee, you’ve been trained to be in control. You’ve been told that you have the “legal right” to ratchet up the initiation of force until compliance is gained. But when you’re alone, do your thoughts about what you’ve seen and maybe even participated in, make you feel ashamed or disappointed? Do you revisit and replay a particular situation — how it unfolded, how you acted, and how you wished you would have acted? Such introspection is natural. To grow as a person and learn from experiences necessitates that you are honest with yourself. But have you put you — the real you — on hold as you try to mold yourself into the role of a police employee? If so, are you really in control?
Ask yourself: How have you changed since going into policing? Have you become more suspicious of other people? More jaded? Less friendly? Cold, even? Do you now have fewer friends and contacts outside of the law enforcement realm?
If you’ve been a police employee for two years or more, you’ve almost certainly questioned your own role. You’ve realized that most important to your supervisors is the absence of public disapproval. The maintenance of perceived legitimacy. Sure, that may be a good business practice to safeguard the institution, but it does nothing to further the stated aims of that organization — to advance justice.
You wanted to make your community a better, safer place, but you now recognize the harm of merely acting, unquestionably, as an enforcer of arbitrary legislation. But what can you do? You’re now financially vested. You have a pension. A family. Responsibilities. Still, many options are available to you. And no, it’s not sneaky to explore the following routes, as you would in fact be operating more aligned with the mission of the organization you joined — to protect people from predators. These are tangible steps you can take to regain control of your life.
- Deescelate. After a couple of years on the job, you’ve responded to hundreds of calls. The addresses, tenants, and layouts of certain properties are likely well known to you. Have you watched as an aggressive colleague roughed up someone for no reason? Have you seen a handcuffed person be choked because they might have swallowed a substance that some other folks claim is illicit? Have you turned and walked from a scene involving your colleagues “teaching a lesson” to someone? How would the you from 10 years ago, before you were a police employee, have reacted to such incidents? Would you have been surprised? Or shocked? While you may not have participated in the rights violations yourself, your silence does nothing to deter them. Speak up. Intervene. Put your hand on your colleagues shoulder, tell them “I’ve got this” and separate the parties. Minimize the harm. Choosing to do what you know is right in the moment can set a powerful precedent.
- Refuse to take phones, cameras, and other recording devices. If you are a “good” cop, you should welcome transparency-generating technology. They are your ally. It’s difficult to speak out internally — you may become ostracised or targeted — so welcome those who want to document your actions and those of your colleagues. Censorship is not conducive to the service of protection. Help to create an environment which welcomes videographers.
- Refuse to enforce legalese that targets those engaged in victimless actions. Most folks in your community would not take issue with you stopping a robbery in progress, or in coming to the aid of a woman being assaulted in the park, but those incidents are few and far between. Most of the time, however, you and your colleagues intervene in situations in which no one is hurting anyone else. In those cases, it makes no more sense for you to cage them or to issue them a ransom, than it would be for me to cage them or give them a ransom. If you want to help people, stop targeting them for non-crimes. Revenue generation for a criminal outfit is not a noble cause.
- Capture and leak intel. You may be privy to information — how someone caged in your jail died, or how evidence was planted on a person to ensure they’d take a plea deal, or how certain groups of people are routinely targeted and shaken down — that needs to be made public. Act as a bridge to ensure that happens. Create a profile with a privacy-conscious email provider, contact an area group, and use them as an outlet to help bring about a more just situation.
- Quit. If you recognize the violence inherent in the centralized, monopolistic provision of “protection,” disassociate. People value safety. There is obviously a demand for protection of people and property. If you have the skills, you can supply them through consensual interactions. You may even want to consider reaching out to Dale Brown at the Threat Management Center to learn more about their efforts and potentially replicate their business model in your area.
I recall a conversation I had in 2010 with a man employed by the Greenfield (MA) Police Department. He and I chatted for an hour. He and his colleagues had just “processed” Ademo Freeman and me, after we were unjustly kidnapped when attempting to bail out our friends. Ademo and I spent that time telling them our captors that in this situation, they were in the wrong. I could tell that the man wearing the Greenfield Police badge knew that it wasn’t right that Ademo and I were being held. As he slid the door to my cage shut, he hung his head and said, “I’m with you more than you know.” I asked him, “Then why don’t you quit your job?” to which he replied, “My family wouldn’t understand.” I told him that if his family loved him, they’d try to understand. And even if they never did understand his motives, at least he himself would know why he quit. Being true to himself was most important, I finished.
As we each align our actions with our desire for a just world, that world will manifest. Real change happens incrementally, one mind, and one action, at a time. Police employee, it’s time to regain control of your life.