My fascination with police officers when I was a kid is what motivated me to want to be a cop. Cops have always been our community’s superheroes; they protect us and make sure the bad guys don’t hurt us.
They help mothers, children and the elderly. When people are in trouble, cops have always been a phone call, wave or shout away.
As we get older, we realize that being a police officer is much more dangerous and less glamorous job than what we imagined as children. However, the last 20 years have ushered even more challenges and dynamics that have significantly changed the way our communities and police officers interact. We are no longer superheroes to all.
There are countless reasons why we have seen this shift in culture — an increasingly violent society, failed policies that have alienated the community, lack of true leadership within our departments, failure to acknowledge the daily successes of our police officers, poor training techniques and the actions of bad cops. The list goes on and on, and so does the tendency to place a Band-Aid on the issues. That doesn’t work.
The most difficult choices police officers make in their lifetime occur literally in fractions of a second when they must quickly assess the imminent threats presented to them. Increasing the amount of decisions they must make during these critical moments does not mitigate tragedy; instead it increases the potential for mistakes and potential catastrophes.
We should be taking a holistic approach that will actually improve conditions and restore the trusted relationship between our community and its police departments. That is exactly what the men and women of the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police are pushing for in our city.
Police officers in Miami Beach and across the nation need to be provided with options that will keep them and the community safe while allowing them to do their job the best way possible. This means getting to the root of the problem, not doing things for public relations purposes that ultimately just kick the can down the road.
There needs to be an increased dialogue between the police department and its officers so that policies that are developed are realistic and compatible with the real life situations that they face on a daily basis. By working together we can develop common sense solutions to these challenges. Failure to do so, will only fester distrust and erode confidence in the department’s leadership.
Most importantly, we need to start establishing a different approach when interacting with the people we vow to serve and protect. Community-oriented policing, not new bureaucratic policies, are what build strong relationships that are critical to good police work.
Building alliances with community organizations, prioritizing transparency, and engaging with residents outside of the law enforcement arena to seek feedback should be number one on our agenda to improving the safety of our streets. Law enforcement tools are necessary, but they cannot replace the impact of a community that feels heard, respected and empowered to trust police.
Brian Jenkins is president of the Miami Beach FOP.