*Note: I submitted this for my Community Policing class in June of ’16.
For this assignment, we’re asked our opinion on (boiled to the essentials) police officers involving themselves in non-law enforcement related duties in their communities. This is a tricky subject, although I must admit, the scenario presented in the assignment makes it difficult to fully explain why this subject is such a mine field.
In the assignment, we’re told about an elderly grandmother who has all of her grandchildren crammed into her little apartment. She tells a police officer –who’s well known and liked by the community –that they used to play outside, but no longer can, due to glass, and debris in the alley where they normally play. So the police officer calls the supervisor of the Public Works department, and asks him to get involved. When the officer checks back the next day, the alley is cleared, and the children are all happily playing outside.
Which makes this a loaded assignment; we can’t come out and say, “No, he shouldn’t have helped!” without seeming like cold-hearted misers, who don’t care about the elderly or children. Since no one wants to be ‘that guy’, I’d be willing to bet solid money that a majority of students will answer this assignment in the affirmative –that officers should get involved in extra community work.
But I’m willing to look at this from all the angles, and present why I think allowing officers to do extra community work is a very slippery slope, and must be carefully monitored.
For starters, there’s the issue of manpower and expectation. If police officers start getting involved with every issue in the community, the community will come to expect the police to fix every issue –regardless of whether or not it’s within the police’s purview. And –to put it bluntly –there simply aren’t enough officers to do so.
Nor should they be expected to. For the second issue with this, I’ll direct your attention to a cartoon show my son loves. It’s called ‘Johnny Test’, a show about a boy whose sisters are super scientists, and frequently grant him superpowers, turning him into the hero ‘Johnny X’.
In one episode (‘The Destruction Of Johnny X’, Johnny Test, imdb.com) Johnny and his sidekick dog Dukey begin saving the townsfolk from various issues –a hiker stuck on a mountain, trains about to collide, cats in trees, and so on. So Johnny does the superhero thing and saves the town from all the various ills troubling it. But eventually, Johnny realizes that the townspeople are calling him for everything, and are no longer even attempting to do things for themseles –a point that’s driven home when the mayor of the town calls him to open a jar of pickles.
Exaggerated a bit? Perhaps. But the point remains true, and applies especially well here. Was the elderly grandmother incapable of calling the Public Works department? The people in her ‘community’ were unwilling to assist her? The older children were incapable of cleaning it up? The ‘Nosey Neighbor’ we’re told about couldn’t do anything? We hear so much about ‘community’ in this class, and how officers should strive to become valued members of it; if people are unwilling to help each other, is there truly a community for the officer to become involved with? If the police officers’ jobs –which already includes a full-time job of protecting the innocent, dealing with criminals, and solving crimes –are now expanded to involve doing whatever task the community needs done, what exactly are the responsibilities of the community?
So I say: leave it up to the officers’ discretion, but make it clear that it cannot become a habit. Otherwise, next thing you know we’ll be having people calling the police to help them open jars of pickles.