Following is The Sheriff’s Log by Paul Pastor, Pierce County Sheriff. It is reprinted with permission. This Log is from May. The June edition will be posted next week.
By Paul Pastor, Pierce County Sheriff
As I address community groups in Pierce County, it is no surprise that people have questions about recent events in policing around the nation. Use of force, training, racial issues, encounters with the mentally ill and community outreach all figure into the discussions of how these issues play out in Pierce County. I welcome those questions but my answers are not always politically correct.
For example, I claim that we do not live in a post-racial society. Racism exists in policing but it exists in business and government and churches as well. It exists in minority communities. No one is immune. It is a species-wide problem which we all harbor and we all need to work to overcome.
Next, I say that law enforcement should not be afraid to acknowledge that some instances of police use of force are unacceptable. But attacking or violently resisting law enforcement officers is also unacceptable. That needs to be made very clear.
Recently we have seen intensive news coverage and outrage over police misconduct. I can understand that. But I cannot understand nor can I accept the lack of news coverage and the lack of outrage over the murder of ten law enforcement officers in America over the past four weeks.
Ten in only four weeks!
Next, I believe we are overly concerned with appearances in the area of “militarization of policing.” Some see it as macho posturing. Has there been some of that? Yes. And we need to address that head-on.
But here is a fact that goes unacknowledged: America has experienced a “militarization” of the public. A check of your local sporting goods store or various internet sites will quickly confirm the availability of military-style or military- grade weapons and equipment. Like it or don’t like it, that’s the way it is.
Another example: in the Puget Sound region, hundreds of armored vehicles are used to securely transport money between businesses and banks every day. This is totally unremarkable. But the occasional use of armored vehicles to protect the lives of law enforcement officers elicits concern and criticism. So, should we conclude that cash matters but police lives don’t?
I welcome a frank discussion of these topics and many more regarding the future of policing in America. But let’s be clear about what this would mean. It would mean that not all the criticism for society’s ills will fall on the shoulders of law enforcement. It would mean that the conduct of others might come under scrutiny.
Law enforcement is America’s most decentralized, interactive, “street-level” branch of government. We make “house calls” in every neighborhood in every community all day, every day. That’s our job.
But in doing this job law enforcement must deal with a whole set of complex problems which government and the public chooses to ignore or avoid.
Mental health is one example. We cut mental health spending and we let law enforcement handle it. Then we cut law enforcement spending too. And we wonder why difficult, violent encounters with the mentally ill increase. “Just let the cops handle it” becomes a universal alternative to making hard policy choices.
We do the same with the related issues of homelessness and substance abuse. Add to that the issue of immigration: the Federal government’s long-avoided duty.
Recently we have seen problems arise as law enforcement confronts difficulties linked to America’s racial divide.
Unlike other most government institutions, law enforcement confronts this issue up close and personal. It does so in chaotic, real-world circumstances. As a result law enforcement becomes a lightening rod for anger and resentment in the community while others scramble to avoid any responsibility or blame.
In the midst of all of this, law enforcement needs to step up to self-examination and work to improve our game. We will step up. We must.
But will the Federal government, the state government and local governments step up and will the general public step up to their own very substantial responsibilities in these areas? Will others shoulder some responsibility and address hard policy choices ? Or will everyone be content to “just call the cops” and wonder why law enforcement doesn’t make all of America’s problems conveniently disappear ?