Recently, in Ocean City, video recordings of encounters between the Ocean City Police Department and members of the public once again brought the important issue of criminal justice and police reform into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, every time one of these events occurs, the calls for police reform are met with the false narrative that reform is anti-police or an attack on our brave first responders. This faulty thinking could not be more detrimental to the safety of our community and our public servants.
The truth is that police reform is beneficial for both the community and our law enforcement officers. Our current policing structure is not working and in major need of reform. To combat crime, we need a complete toolbox, and that is what reform can give. Law enforcement is necessary to protect society, but they are tasked with too broad an undertaking with the tools provided.
The actions of a few representatives have resulted in brutality or tragic loss of life. These events have caused the fear and distrust of police in many communities and have made the job of our law enforcement officers much more difficult.
Police reform is good for the communities because it will help prevent these types of encounters from happening in the future, keep unprofessional officers from being hired again, continue the cycle and rebuild trust in the community. The objective of police reform is that no matter what we look like or where we come from, we all want to know we can make it home to our families at the end of the day.
In the current debate over this issue, it is often overlooked or not discussed how police reform is also good for the police officers for several reasons.
There can be no doubt that the actions of a few bad actors have harmed the community’s perception of the whole profession. These feelings of fear toward police and overall distrust make it so our communities are less likely to cooperate with police and create an unsustainable tension between the community and our police departments.
These effects make the already difficult job of our law enforcement even more complex and contribute to many of the issues we see in policing today.
Establishing accountability and providing access to new training and techniques to improve how we police our community.
The majority of police officers are decent people who provide a valuable service. They risk their lives every day to serve our communities and keep us safe. These officers agree that those who don’t follow protocols or abuse the community are bad for the profession and need to be held accountable.
Police reform would create the necessary mechanism to hold bad actors accountable and ensure that when they get in trouble for not upholding the standard of law enforcement, they cannot just move elsewhere and continue their mistreatment of the community.
Police reform would also provide additional education in de-escalation and implicit bias. The greater the variety of tools we provide for law enforcement, the more likely it becomes possible to create positive outcomes for situations like these.
Police reform would also help police officers by reducing the overwhelming burden we put on them.
In our society today, we ask our police to investigate crime, address poverty, do traffic stops, solve mental health issues, work in schools and pretty much every societal failure we face. We need a more holistic approach to our society, one in which we don’t task just one group with implementing.
We must also give police the tools to prove they followed the correct protocols and procedures.
Introducing body cameras for on-duty officers is one such policy initially perceived as an attack on law enforcement. In actuality, it gave our officers the ability to defend themselves when they were accused of wrongdoing but had followed the proper protocols and procedures.
In theory and practice, police reform isn’t “anti-police;” it is a tool to provide accountability, transparency and allow police officers to show how they serve the community in a positive light.
In politics today, many of our elected leaders and special interests are resorting to catchy slogans and inflammatory rhetoric to mislead the public and create fear about police reform.
Instead of implementing policies that address the issues raised by their constituents, they are focused on scoring political points with their base while dividing our community and blocking meaningful reform in the process. The problem with this approach is that slogans and inaction won’t address the issues nor help our police.
At the end of the day, until we have serious conversations about police brutality and the need for reform, we will continue to exist in an endless cycle that is getting worse by the day. The community and our police can’t afford to stay in this cycle because our elected leaders refuse to put in the hard work required to create legislation, educate the community about the legislation and then turn it into law.
We need local leaders who are willing to address these issues and not “virtue signal” in an effort to be popular or pander. It’s time to expect more, to expect our elected officials to put in the hard work. I am running for the state Senate in District 38 to overcome the hyper-partisan divides and address issues just like this.
My plan includes diversifying our resources that will improve community interactions, ending “broken window” and for-profit policing, and creating community oversight. We can better support the police when we don’t ask them to shoulder society’s failures. We can do better for all of us.
The writer is a Salisbury City Councilmember and a Democratic candidate for Maryland Senate District 38.