by Christopher Viland
I have often wondered about the position we put our new police recruits into in the modern day and age and whether we have done nothing more than set them up for failure.
As society has changed and become more complicated, more and more social welfare and social care taking duties have been pushed down to the only around-the-clock, first- response system available, the local police officer. It isn’t that long ago that a police officer’s sole responsibility was the deterrence of crime and apprehension of offenders. Period. The list has grown exponentially and now includes many of the following non-crime, non-enforcement activities: handling nuisance animal problems, settling property line disputes, dealing with loud noises or odors from neighbors, caring for the mentally challenged who have fallen through the gaps in the system, stopping to play basketball with neighborhood children, having lunch with local senior citizens, collecting for local charities, helping parents get their non-compliant children to school, etc., etc.
I don’t want to in any way insinuate that those additional duties are not valuable, necessary, or even that many police officers don’t enjoy and volunteer to do many of them. What I am saying is that the skill set that makes you a tactically proficient and safe officer in confronting crime and violence requires exactly the opposite interpersonal skills than the newer softer more community friendly duties.
We need the tactical officer. We don’t need him every day and we hope to never need him to actually perform. But at the very least he is insurance against evil and unfortunately we have seen, even in Solon, that hope is often in vain. By saddling the tactical officer with a host of new “soft skill” requirements, have we made them less able to do those things which we hope they will never have to do? I believe that we all like to think not. But is that rational? Are we just burying our heads in the sand?
Modern police departments have embraced “community policing” and all that that philosophy entails. They train to be proficient at all the skills required for both enforcement and outreach. The perfect officer would excel at both, and be able to switch between them fluidly and reasonably. They continuously search for and recruit for the perfect officer. In the meantime, shouldn’t we be open about the difficulty in trying to have officers be both halves of the puzzle at the same time?