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Protect blue lives and civil rights: Stop putting police in harm’s way

(Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)

(Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP)

To prevent violent interactions between civilians and the police, better policing strategy should reduce unnecessary physical interactions between the two.

Changing police protocol could go a long way toward keeping police officers safe and enhancing public safety, Conor Friedersdorf wrote for The Atlantic.

“There is no need for a cop to approach a motorist’s window over a broken taillight,” Friedersdorf wrote. “The benefits of these incidental discoveries are not worth the costs, in stress and incidents gone wrong, especially when one adds opportunity costs to the calculus: The more time police officers spend on roadside stops for ‘fix-it’ tickets, the less time they’re engaged in patrolling, investigating, or responding to more serious crimes.”

Instead, Friedersdorf advocates cops remaining in their vehicles for basic traffic violations, issuing tickets or warnings without in-person interaction. The police are safer, citizens are less agitated, and racial incidents are less likely to occur. Police officers could have less stress on the job as they don’t get so many citizens berating or verbally abusing them for “minor” infractions.

The shift would be a frank embrace of reality. Law enforcement is the only group that has been granted the power to kill in the name of law and order. Every interaction they have is one in which they can exercise that power if a situation deteriorates. As society expects the police to take more responsibility, it’s more likely that interactions could end in death.

That’s given rise to “suicide by cop,” instances in which the police are called and then antagonized or threatened into shooting an agitated civilian.

Those instances, where agitation, aggression, and defensiveness increase, threaten every party involved. By avoiding those interactions unless necessary, safety can be improved and community trust can be strengthened. Putting a police officer at risk over minor car repair isn’t a social necessity.

Decreasing interaction won’t solve all policing issues, of course. It will only decrease the number of incidents, it’s hoped. The Center for American Progress suggests better data collection of police-involved fatalities, special prosecutors for police misconduct investigations, bias training to improve racial relations, and better federal oversight. The ACLU advocates body cameras for the benefit of police and civilians alike. The Texas Public Policy Foundation advocates reforms for civil asset forfeiture, license plate readers, SWAT deployments, and over-criminalization, all to establish stronger trust among police departments and civilians.

Few of those reforms will have immediate results. What those avenues for reform would do is to re-negotiate relations between the police and the society it protects. When Americans don’t ask the police to intervene in non-violent situations, they’re more likely to trust the police. When the police aren’t expected to act like social workers with an ultimate power to kill, they’re safer and can focus on the core duty of protecting Americans.

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