You are in your position to protect and to serve, and yet many people in the public feel as though you are at war with us. Many of us feel you are protecting and serving your fellow brothers within the police department and not your fellow brothers in the street. That statement is not a statement of blame. It is simply the current reality. I suspect this reality is a result of your training. You are trained to shoot us if you feel your life is in danger. You are trained to perceive us as a threat. You are trained to perceive us as the enemy.
We are not the enemy. There is no enemy. It is just us, and we are all in this together. Like you, we want to be perceived as human beings.
I know there are dangerous people in the world. But few are as dangerous as you are trained to believe. Breaking the law does not make a person dangerous. And even those who are a physical threat very rarely pose a mortal threat. Your job will put you in dangerous positions. That is the job you chose, and we thank you for it because we need positive policing in our communities.
But we need to know that you are on our side, even when we are breaking the law. What I mean by that is that even in the moment of an arrest, we need to trust that you will not lose sight of our humanity and our right to not only a fair and just process but our right to maintaining our dignity and our very life.
Human nature is to respond in kind. Unless a person has a high emotional intelligence or is skilled in conflict management (which few police officers and few members of the community are), they will most likely treat a person the same way they are being treated. If the police officer is de-escalating the encounter through his words and actions, the other person will most likely respond in kind. If the police officer is escalating the conflict through his words and actions, the person will most likely respond in kind. Your actions have a direct impact on how the public responds to you.
We often hear police officers and others in the policing community experience confusion as to why the public does not treat them with respect. There is a misconception amongst the policing community that your badge and uniform commands respect. It doesn’t. It commands fear. If you want people to fear you, then you have accomplished your goal. If you want people to respect you, then you must treat us with respect.
So what does respect look like?
In every encounter you have with someone in the public …
- Acknowledge within yourself that the person is a human being. This is opposite to what you have been trained to do. Your training tells you to perceive us as violators, perpetrators, etc. Change your mindset, and see us as human.
- Allow us to maintain our dignity by treating us in a way that allows us to maintain our sense of worth and well-being.
- Consider us your equal. We all have equal worth. Your uniform puts you in a position of power, but it does not put you in a position of greater worth as a human being. We are all humans, and we all want to be treated as such. Treat us the way you want us to treat you. Or better yet, treat us the way you hope your fellow officer would treat your wife, mother, sister, daughter or brother. Because we are all that to someone.
Because human nature is to respond in kind, we have developed an unhealthy, toxic, fear-based relationship with one another. In general, both the police and the community treat each other in such a way that instills fear. You have become afraid of us, and we have become afraid of you.
Fear results from …
- Being treated disrespectfully
- Being treated unfairly
- Feeling that you are not being listened to or heard
- Being held to unrealistic expectations
- Having your identity challenged
If you want us to treat you differently, treat us differently. It is easy to say, “How about you treat us differently, and we will treat you differently?” I agree. But change has to start somewhere, and you could choose to be the change too.
Who Do You Serve and Protect?
A Course in Miracles teaches that every action we make stems from who we think we are and represents the value we place on ourselves. As a police officer, you must ask yourself: Whom do I serve and protect?
If you believe that you are in a position to serve and protect the community (and your community includes your fellow police officers), then when you see your fellow officers abusing their power and disrespecting members publicly, serving and protecting that officer and the community should include positively policing his behavior too. Instill trust and loyalty with the public by defending them against abuses of power and letting them see that injustices will not be tolerated. Celebrate the public’s right to speak out publicly, and let them know you will support their need for protection.
If you believe you are in your job to protect and serve the policing community only, then you must accept that you will never earn the trust and respect of the community.
In any conflict one party must make the decision to be the change. The fastest and most effective way to create change is for the party that holds the power to become the change-maker. If you begin treating us all with respect, in time there will be a shift in the consciousness of the community. Your presence will make us feel safe rather than make us feel fearful. Your communities will become safer and your job will become more meaningful.
We need you. But we need you to be with us not against us. Serve and protect us, and we will serve and protect you too.
Robyn Short has ghostwritten numerous books and is the founder and publisher of GoodMedia Press. She is a student of A Course in Miracles, a self-study system of spiritual psychotherapy. Robyn is a passionate believer in peace and social justice. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University, a Masters of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University and will graduate with a Masters in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from Southern Methodist University in 2014. Robyn is the author of Prayers for Peace, and the forthcoming children’s book Peace People, co-authored with Nanon Williams. Robyn is available for book signings and to speak on topics of peace building and nonviolence, especially as it relates to these core issues. Contact Robyn by email.