Today, buried amidst the usual Trump shenanigans, Pew Research released a new study. It posits concerning statistics.
As a result of high-profile incidents involving police officers and black citizens, 93 percent of police officers are increasingly concerned about their safety. 75 percent of officers say that interactions between police and blacks have become tenser. And 72 percent of officers say they have become more reluctant to stop and question suspicious individuals.
These statistics should concern millennials. We need police officers to be willing to stop us.
For one, stopping millennials saves lives. Take Milwaukee and Chicago. In these major American cities, both are also afflicted by a growing scourge of gun homicides by millennial black men against other young black men. This violence imprisons entire neighborhoods, families, and futures in hopeless despair. What kind of life is it if one cannot walk outside without fear of being shot? What life for the mother that ignores her son’s education to preserve his physical safety? It’s no life at all.
That’s exactly the non-life we embrace when we deter police officers from doing their jobs. We only create a safe space for criminals.
Of course, some would say that the social costs of stopping black men are too high. They argue that such stops only aggravate those who already mistrust the police. But they rely on a misplaced assumption. They assume that the majority of police-minority interactions are inherently negative. The opposite is true. Watch any police officer performing his or her duties and you’ll see what they spend their time doing. Either driving around or talking to people. You’ll see that most of the time, they are simply saying hello, building rapport, and asking about concerns. These stops matter greatly for society. They build trust.
But where police officers back away from this contact, two negative developments follow. First, young black men and boys assume police officers only want to stop to interrogate them. Second, police are less able to gather intelligence on criminal activity. That second point matters in that those who live in a community must be the eyes and ears of their police force. But where police officers feel unable to interact positively, they are sacrificing their ability to serve.
There’s another reason why millennials should want cops to stop us. Namely, in 2017, officers are better trained than ever before. Moreover, there are far more checks against police misconduct than in the past. Pew reflects this. Asked whether white police officers are more likely than black officers to fight with a black suspect, a higher proportion of black police officers than white officers said no. Black officers are confident their white colleagues are not racist.
We should also be cognizant of the opportunity that tools like body cameras provide. They help police officers gather evidence and minorities find the confidence that they will be treated fairly.
Still, as I’ve argued before, we can do more to strengthen these safeguards. One area that the Pew report suggests we give greater consideration to is police department practices for underperforming officers. Questioned about fellow officers who do not engage in misconduct but are simply not up to the job, 73 percent of cops said those officers are not held accountable. They lament this. Second, we should expand public attention on elections for Sheriffs and other command-rank officers. The Pew report shows that too many officers lack confidence in their senior leaders. They, like the public, deserve leaders most willing to wage the most efficient effort against crime. We should also improve coordination between police patrols and mental health professionals.
Why does this matter? Because while 76 percent of police officers support helping those with mental health issues as part of their jobs, these duties take them away from counter-crime operations.
Ultimately, while we should always expect professionalism from our police, millennials also need to bear heed to the unique challenge cops face. According to Pew, a whopping 86 percent of officers say that the public does not understand the job they do. Every day, those officers risk life and limb to face down hardened criminals. And 56 percent of officers say that the mental strain of this experience has made them more callous. In short, their service of the public has led them to suffer personally.
If nothing else, let’s help ourselves and our officers by encouraging them to stop us.