Former police officer Daniel Pantaleo (of Eric Garner chokehold notoriety) will sue the New York Police Department and Commissioner James O’Neill to win back his job, on grounds that they were “arbitrary and capricious”. Meanwhile, the police union pushes for a no-confidence vote in the mayor and police commissioner. In response, New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio used “reprehensible” to describe the union’s call for a public rebuke.
As feared, this has translated to what hurts the very people and communities who most need an involved and trusted police presence. In the war of words, the furious head of the police union did allude to a possible work slowdown.
In the aftermath of the firing of the officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, the specific words coming from the union head was for members to use the “utmost caution” when executing arrests, especially if a suspect resists. He said cops should back each other up, call for a supervisor when making an arrest and request an ambulance when touching a member of the public.” (New York Post, August 20).
On the face of it, none could argue with “utmost caution,” or the calls for cops to support each other, or a supervisor, or an ambulance. In times of real trouble, however, those are all time-consuming and could be used as deliberate, but hard to contest, delaying tactics. It means less effective policing. It hurts those in need of a rapid, robust police response; and from a policing position, it is these same besieged communities, that the most emotionally charged outcries against police aggressiveness and lethal outcomes have originated.
Regardless, “utmost caution” was quick to take hold. According to the New York Post (August 27), “Arrests dropped 27% between Aug. 19 — the day Pantaleo was fired — and Aug. 25 compared to the same period in 2018…” and “The number of criminal summonses issued fell nearly 29% over the same period…”
Sources rushed to share that, “there is no organized slowdown, cops on the street clearly feel that the department doesn’t have their backs…” Now, given the speed and rate of the reaction (go slow), it looks rather convincingly like a police backlash.
The upshot of that is sure to be: a) more minority crime (deal with it yourself); more minority community vulnerability (decide on priority); and more police obstinacy (playing it safe). Naturally, everything is carefully couched in the letter of procedures to a tee. Who could argue? The police hold the high cards; not necessarily the higher ground.
This incentivizes low-level and hardcore lawbreakers to push cops for unlawful responses. Now the police feel criminalized, suspected, and expected to make inhuman decisions in the heat of the moment: moments that are dark and dangerous, and unknown and unnerving. Thus, alleged official excess (political mismanagement) over believed serious police misconduct (street mismanagement) is countered by irrefutable police excess (response management) in the field. Police reacting with work freeze before political fire. Means trouble for all sides.
In Guyana, it is similarly unrealistic to demand that there is the cleanest kind of cop-living and practicing when so much money, and so many temptations and offers, wait for the giving (not even asking). That, too, is impractical. Money buys everything, including law enforcement services.
In Guyana, to berate and blast police officers and department for every development, no matter how justified, is something to be considered carefully, with standards observed wisely. The line between condoning and covering up, on the one hand, and criticizing and calling to task, on the other, is best approached temperately. There are those situations that must be exposed and challenged; then there are those for which an honest brass must be given the space, time, and benefit of integrity and intent.
It is not easy, since the real world of policing in the Guyanese environment could make sorcerers out of saints. Meaning that officers of the Guyana Police Force would be less than human, if they did not respond the traditional way to the opportunities and overtures that come their way; a way now nationally, financially, and personally enriching. This is out there every day. Nonetheless, that disturbing reality must be managed responsibly.
Similarly, those officers who breach the law must be made to stand in the light and feel the heat of consequences. This helps to weed out the much-insisted upon (by every Guyanese politician) few bad ones, it makes the force a respected institution, and transforms society into a trusting and safer place. Unlike their New York brethren, Guyanese political powers, are prudent and very cautious when handling the hot police potato. Votes involved; community security at risk. No fallback options. It has been the sugarcoated, white-gloved treatment.
The morale of the force is at stake; its rise hinges on building public trust. Therefore, it is imperative that improvements through individual example depart from the norm and the stereotype; and which forces change from the inside, recognition from the outside, and a generally better reputation overall. Serious change requires honesty, fairness, and nuanced pressure from management, politicians, and public, through firm hands and steady eyes.
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