Should Policing Be Like Military Service?

Highlights

Should policing or corrections be like military service with a defined period of enlistment and benefits?

More officers are dying by suicide than by gunfire and traffic accidents combined.

Introduction

I had an hourlong conversation with a very nice man, probably in his mid-30’s, who is a deputy sheriff in Florida.

The exchange began with a nod wishing the deputy a nice day outside of a convenience store. Somehow it evolved into the fact that I’m an ex-cop writing articles about the justice system.

This was a congenial, smart guy who obviously knew his stuff. The discussion turned to the current climate regarding law enforcement and public perception. He told me that he was leaving the force. He was getting out of policing.  He wasn’t transferring to another agency, he wasn’t going to something similar, he was leaving for good.

“The public doesn’t have our back anymore,” he suggested. It’s time to go.

I told him that he was wrong, per Gallup, American cops are one of the highest valued professions in the country. He was unfazed. It was simply time to go.

Cops Suffering?

The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) documents problems with emotional health and organizational wellness for police officers, concentrating on the continuing problem of officer suicides and the growing problem of ambushes and other felonious assaults, line-of-duty deaths, and mental health, COPS.

More officers are dying by suicide than by gunfire and traffic accidents combined.

Many participants also reported that the current national and political narrative around law enforcement, particularly regarding use of force, has created a culture of hesitation among officers. Per one participant, “Even when you try to do everything correctly, you still receive pressure and often protest. No matter how much you teach and prepare officers, the amount of pressure in the current climate is causing hesitancy to act, and this is putting officers in danger.”

The Consequences

So getting back to my conversation with the deputy, maybe he isn’t wrong to go. Maybe he’s smart. Regardless, his departure is a blow to a civil society.

I’m not going to get into the larger debate about officers and public perception beyond the fact that we need good, experienced, calm and rational police officers to do the heavy lifting of law enforcement. Yea, some cops have made terrible mistakes. But I (and the data) believe that the vast majority of cops are decent people who simply want do a difficult job without unnecessary drama and go home.

There are endless newspaper articles documenting that officers are leaving and recruitment is getting much harder, Washington Post. It’s the same with corrections.

Take cops away and all hell breaks loose. The recent increase in violent crime, some of it significant, may be due to cops holding back and not being proactive, Crime in America. The data states that proactive policing reduces crime, Crime in America.

Maybe there shouldn’t be career cops. Maybe ten years is enough. Maybe a twenty or thirty-year career in policing is asking too much. Let them do ten and get military-like benefits.

military veterans

US Army Sergeant (SGT) Brett Weir, 89th Military Police. (PICRYL-Public Domain)

How many death notifications at 1:00 a.m. can one person make? Should there be a limit as to how many deaths or child abuse or domestic violence incidents you witness? How many swing shifts can one person take? Should anyone be on a 24-365 call for longer than a decade?

Like military enlistments, maybe it’s time for a five or ten-year career with specified retirement and medical benefits. Let it be like military service. Pay off their college loans or let the state pay tuition or job training when done.

Conclusion

If you take public appreciation away from policing, what’s the point of being a cop? I don’t think most people mistrust cops. I believe the opposite is true (per Gallup). But many (most?) officers feel unjustifiably attacked and degraded.

Per my wife, “The public should openly profess their appreciation for police officers. Every sporting or public event should include acts of appreciation for first responders. Like the military, let people openly express their gratitude for people who do much for our safety and well being.”

We have data stating that officers are no longer willing to be proactive. They are no longer eager to take unnecessary risks because of harsh, sometimes inaccurate publicity, Crime in America.

Possibly the right thing to do is to sign police or correctional officers to five or ten-year contracts with defined benefits and assistance as to moving on to the next job, possibly with the same governmental entity.

Officers stay for ten. They have an end date. They and their families know it’s not forever.  They get a meaningful experience. Like the military, they get job preferences, retirement, and medical benefits.

As to the public, they will have to deal with the fact that recruitment, pay, and benefits need to keep up.  Everyone gets fresh, enthusiastic people and if public perception turns, cops tell themselves that it’s not forever.

Maybe it’s time to have five of ten-year enlistments for cops and corrections. Maybe that’s the only way to recruit and keep quality people, Crime in America.

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Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected]