In the last year, and in an accelerating trend, a lot of cops have been mixing it up with the civilians — and, I must note, visa versa. In short, there seems to be a growing fissure between the people and the cops. Why?
Several years ago, I was in England, on business. After work, my customer and I went to dinner. My customer drove, and chose a pay lot close to our chosen restaurant. When we returned, his car had a boot affixed to the right front wheel. A note telling him who to call was placed under the wiper blade. He was really steamed. The signs the lot’s owner erected at the entrance had deliberately misrepresented its overtime policy in such a way as to encourage people to park overtime and, hence, get booted. Of course the fee to remove the boot was hideous.
My customer, in justifiable ire, called the Bobbies. I would like to compare the police response I saw there in England with what a typical police response is here in the USA.
USA: The cops come roaring up in garish black-and-white cars emblazoned with gold decals and festooned with clearance lights on the roof, in the grill, in the back windows and antenna bristling everywhere. Oh, and don’t forget the enormous black push-bar affixed to the front bumper.
ENGLAND: Two cops arrive in a small and almost-nondescript sedan painted a shit brindle with the word “police” on the front fender. It had one small revolving blue light on the roof. If it had antenna, I couldn’t see them. There was no push bar. The cop driving the car moved in slowly like someone looking for an unfamiliar address.
USA: The cop or cops will be dressed in jet-black uniforms, a la the SS back in Germany or ISIL in Syria. The shirts will be in skin-tight short sleeved jobs, the better to display their hypertrophied, steroid-boosted arms. The uniforms will be covered with badges and insignia galore. The cops’ loins will be girded by an enormous belt from which hang all manner of apparatus — such as handcuffs, pepper spray, blackjacks, possibly a Taser, and for sure, an automatic in a holster that juts from the officer’s hip, the better to display the gun. The cops will affect ugly military buzz cuts, wear ugly, bug-eyed sunglasses with metal rims (even after dark) and wear thin leather shooter’s gloves that snap at the wrist.
ENGLAND: The two cops that showed up at the parking lot wore plain white long-sleeved shirts with badges, name tags, and one shoulder patch identifying the force on which they served and the pants were earth-tone slacks. The cops wore belts, to be sure, but the only hardware visible were long wooden truncheons dangling from loops. If they had anything else, they kept it out of sight.
USA: After alighting from their squad cars, the American cops will bellow, “Alright, who called 9-1-1?” followed closely by “What’s going on here?” The cops then pepper their interlocutors with a staccato series of demanding questions, seldom allowing one question to be answered before another is asked. Meaningful communications are all but nonexistent. Within a minute, the American cop will be threatening jail and insisting the other party put his hands behind his back to be cuffed-up “for everyone’s safety.” When the incident is concluded, people will be muttering things like “fuckin cops!”
ENGLAND: After alighting from their squad car, the English cop asked, “Gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?” My customer, still incensed at the booting of his car, heatedly explained the problem and declared the lot’s operator to be a goddamned crook and insisted the boot be removed forthwith. The two cops stood politely, listening to my customer vent and interjecting soothing comments that indicated they were paying attention to his grievances — sympathetic comments like “I see,” and “Oh, dear.” After my customer’s bile was spent, the cops explained the ins and outs of parking law and offered to call a cab for us. And that was that. On the ride back to the hotel, my customer volunteered that the cops were decent guys. We all got a good nights’ sleep.
So what can be concluded from these two contrasting examples of police work? That American cops are overly militaristic. They are overly concerned with simply establishing their authority by intimidation, threats and force as opposed to striking the posture of an honest broker between disputants. Consequently, in America, there is a growing sense of Us vs. Them. Ultimately, this will result in the taxpayers viewing their police as alien occupiers. There will be bad results all around.
My recommendations (there are four) are not extreme, but they will be effective.
First, ditch the all-black uniforms. If you want to see what a good police uniform looks like, look at the one used by the Washington State Patrol. You’ll immediately recognize the wearer as a cop, but he won’t look like an executioner.
Second, forbid wearing sunglasses if the sun’s not out.
Third, male cops should wear their hair in what’s known as a “businessman’s cut.” Examples would be Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama or Cary Grant.
Fourth, and most important, send all cops to a school on Salesmanship 101. And if they flunk, they don’t get a badge. A good salesman can get someone he loaths to part with money. This kind of skill will go a long way in dealing with surly drunks and obstreperous live-ins.
True, despite these four measures, cops will still have to occasionally plug someone but their standing in the community will improve and their jobs will become safer and easier. And we’ll like them better.