First of all, it's important to recognize that there are outliers -- employees who go rogue -- among police, just like there are in every profession, from airline pilots to plumbers, teachers, and doctors. We shouldn't generalize about policemen because, more than ever, the media now is bringing rogue cops to our attention. Local news has become national news.
I believe most police officers are honorable and very good at their jobs. The difference with law enforcement, however, is that their rogue employees have the potential to cause terrible harm because they are armed with deadly weapons. Police officers play a special role in society: they are sworn to keep us safe and protect us from harm. Therefore, it can be especially difficult for us to accept that some of them may go rogue and violate their solemn oath.
Police officers are in extremely high-stress occupations that are fraught with danger. Every day they are in situations in which they might be killed, injured, or maimed. They must deal with individuals who are violent, on drugs, or mentally ill. As a result, officers must always be vigilant and, like soldiers, be willing constantly to put their lives on the line.
When cops engage in misconduct and even violent behavior, keep in mind that nothing happens in a vacuum. There are almost always warning signs that an officer has problems. With proper safeguards in place, we can greatly reduce the risk of cops going rogue.
The approach should begin in the hiring process, including psychological screening and psychological evaluation to eliminate individuals who are not appropriate for the job, who have a serious mental illness, or can't handle the high level of stress required.
Then, throughout their career, police officers should receive psychological evaluations along with the physical examinations that are periodically required. Teachers and doctors must take ongoing training throughout their careers, and so should police officers. Policemen should receive continual training and education in stress reduction techniques; for example, how to be less reactive in seemingly routine situations and how to defuse incidences without using firearms.
Also, there must be education systems in place that constantly identify to their peers police officers who may be getting into trouble. Does a police officer have a history of complaints from the public for violent and inappropriate actions? Have his fellow officers noticed unusual behavior? Does the officer have personal problems -- a divorce, financial woes, substance abuse -- that might affect his job performance?
Finally, there must be fair, honest, and transparent discipline for those police officers who do go rogue. There can't be a culture that turns a blind eye to cops who break the rules. Ignoring the problem may encourage other officers to engage in misconduct, and results in a loss of faith by those they're sworn to protect -- the public.
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