It’s possibly the hottest topic in today’s news. We can hardly go on the Internet or turn on a radio or TV without encountering an op-ed or a news story about “police reform.” Mostly, we get the liberal or anarchist viewpoints.
The liberals want to either slash the police department budgets, putting fewer cops into the field, or they want to start responding to 9-1-1 calls by sending unarmed social workers out to talk to the murderers, child molesters, and drug dealers.
The anarchists, of course, want to do away with police departments altogether, leaving them free to loot and burn any city or business they take offense to, and kill anyone who opposes them.
You will probably be surprised to hear that I agree with the liberals and anarchists—we need police reform. But I disagree on the reforms needed.
What qualifies me to comment on this topic? In the course of my almost-eighty years I have had the privilege—and I mean that word very sincerely—the privilege of knowing a wide variety of law enforcement people. I’ve known uniformed patrolmen . . .and sergeants. . .and detectives. I’ve known two police chiefs. I’ve known several FBI agents.
I’ve even known a retired Texas Ranger. He was the man who gave me my first instruction in how to shoot a handgun.
When I say I “knew” these people, I don’t mean we belonged to the same church, or they lived in my neighborhood. With the exception of the Texas Ranger (I was twelve years old at the time) I mean they visited in my home, and I in theirs. We drank adult beverages and solved the world’s problems while steaks cooked on the grill.
In the process, I learned a lot about the intricacies of law enforcement. The reforms needed haven’t changed in the past fifty years. They won’t change until we address them and fix them.
Municipal police departments come in three distinct and (for the most part) dissimilar types. For simplicity, I’ll refer to them as Type One, Type Two, and Type Three.
TYPE ONE DEPARTMENTS
The smallest towns and villages usually depend on the county sheriff for their occasional law-enforcement needs. At some point, though, the residents decide they need a dedicated police department. This often comes when the population reaches three or four thousand, they have a two-or-three block strip of stores that everybody refers to as “downtown,” and they get their first traffic light.
Ideally, even a Type One police department should have at least five full-time employees. They need a Police Chief, and a person with the title of “dispatcher.” The dispatcher takes phone calls, handles the radio, and in general acts as the department secretary. He or she stays in the police headquarters all day, freeing the Chief up to attend City Council meetings, interface with local people, and attend to other police department business.
The Type One department also needs at least three full-time patrolmen—one for each shift (day, evening, and night).
Then there’s the cost of equipping a police department. The cost goes way beyond five salaries. They need at least two cars (so one car is available when the other car is in the shop for maintenance). Both cars need to be outfitted with lights, sirens, and radios. Since one of the cars is on the road 24 hours a day, gasoline and maintenance costs are high.
There are uniforms, guns, ammunition, and other accessories like handcuffs and flashlights to furnish.
Several part-time patrolmen are needed to cover sick days, holidays, and vacations.
Unfortunately, the town budget usually won’t stretch to cover all that, so most Type One departments start out with just two employees—the Chief and the dispatcher. The Chief covers the day shift and the town continues to rely on the county sheriff to cover the evening and night shifts.
Realistically, the patrolmen are just going to be on traffic patrol, watching for things like speeding and running stop signs. They may have to break up a few domestic squabbles and arrest the occasional drunk driver, but that will be rare. The State Police have a Criminal Investigation Division (CID) that will be called in to handle major crimes like rapes and murders.
Whether the Type One department hires its patrolmen in the beginning or one at a time, as funds are available, they need to be trained. They need to know the local and state laws. Does the state require cars to carry liability insurance? Do passengers have to wear seat belts, or just the driver? When is a child allowed to sit in the front seat? There are literally hundreds of things a patrolman needs to learn, even on traffic patrol. Ideally he should know them before he goes into the streets.
Sending the newly-hired patrolman to the regional Police Academy is out of the question, of course. Most of the regional Police Academies charge $5,000 to $7,500 for a month of training. By the time the town pays the patrolman’s salary for the month, and furnishes him with uniforms and equipment, the total cost will usually exceed $10,000.
Instead of attending the regional Police Academy, the newly-hired patrolman in a Type One department is given a notebook of state and local traffic laws and told to study it. Take it with him when he’s on patrol. Consult it as needed.
As I said earlier, Type One departments are usually limited to the small towns and villages, ranging from a few thousand population up to maybe twenty thousand residents. As (or if) the town grows, it will gradually transition to a. . .
TYPE TWO DEPARTMENT
Type Two departments usually start when the population of the city reaches about twenty or twenty-five thousand people. The top limit varies. Some cities with a population of 200,000 people still have Type Two police departments. Other cities make the transition to Type Three departments when they’re smaller—100,000 residents or so.
The difference between Type One and Type Two departments is twofold—training and equipment.
Instead of the newly-hired officer being given a notebook of state and local laws, he usually spends four to six months riding with an experienced officer. The rookie watches how his training officer handles different situations, and how he relates to the civilian population.
Traffic patrol is still where they spend most of their time, but officers in a Type Two department also deal with non-violent crimes. The State Police CID still handles the rapes and murders, but the local officers handle burglaries, car thefts, robberies, and that sort of thing—the kind of crimes that just require a police report, so the victims can file a claim with their insurance company.
Most Type Two departments give their officers some rudimentary instruction in high-speed driving techniques, since on rare occasion they will be involved in a high-speed pursuit.
Type Two departments rarely send their newly-hired recruits to the regional Police Academy. That additional training is reserved for experienced patrolmen who pass the Sergeant Examination. Those are the guys who will become the shift supervisors and, in a few cases, detectives.
The Type Two department is almost always better equipped, too. They’re more heavily armed, with shotguns and M-16 rifles in the trunks of their cars. In addition to the radios in their cars, the officers have portable radios that hang on their belts, so they’re never out of touch with their dispatcher.
The officers usually have “bulletproof” vests (which really aren’t) that they can wear. Some departments require their officers to wear them any time they’re on patrol. Others only require them to be worn in special high-risk situations.
They have a few unmarked cars that they patrol the streets with.
Most towns and cities in the U.S. (I’ve never been clear on when a “town” becomes a “city”) have a Type One or Type Two police department. As I’ve indicated, one tends to morph into the other. But there’s almost always a gap between Type Two and Type Three departments. Most cities will not grow large enough to support a Type Three department.
TYPE THREE DEPARTMENTS
According to my Internet research, there are 32 Type Three police departments in the U.S. We’re talking cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Houston. (That’s as of 2016, the latest year I could find numbers for.)
Type Three departments bear little resemblance to Type One and Type Two departments. All their newly-hired recruits go to a Police Academy, but they aren’t regional academies—they’re in-house academies, wholly owned and staffed by the police department they serve.
The Type Three academies usually have ongoing training programs for their officers. Passing the Sergeant Exam qualifies an officer for additional training. Those who pass the Detective Exam receive even more training. The rare few who qualify to attend the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, receive pre- and follow-up training.
Most Type Three departments have indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, where their officers can maintain their proficiency with their handguns, rifles, and shoguns. In this digital age, many departments (including Houston) have a digital version of Hogan’s Alley (Google it) at the FBI Academy. With “guns” that fire laser beams instead of bullets, officers can sharpen their reflexes and their decision-making skills under benign conditions.
Many Type Three departments own or have access to a closed-circuit track where their officers can learn and practice driving skills like the well-known Pitt Maneuver.
There are several areas in which my knowledge, combined with what my research turned up, convinces me that police reform is needed. The first (and most important, in my opinion) is. . .
FUNDING. Contrary to the opinion of the liberals, most police departments in the U.S. are under-funded. It’s an unfortunate truth that when municipal incomes fall short of the ideal budgets, the police department and fire department are the first budgets to be cut.
Police departments of all sizes need additional funding in three main areas: staffing (see the following paragraphs), training, and equipment.
STAFFING. Compared to FBI recommendations, the average police department in the U.S. is understaffed. The FBI recommends a staffing level of 2.5 officers (actual patrolmen, not counting clerks, secretaries, and other administrative personnel) per 1,000 population in the city. As of 2016, the national average was 1.8 policemen per 1,000 population. In other words, the average police department in the U.S. is understaffed by 28 percent. Mention that to your resident liberal and watch his head explode!
These are averages. As you might expect, the Type Three departments need more officers than Type One departments. The Type One department does mainly traffic patrol, whereas the Type Three department has to deal with drugs, gangs, organized crime, rapes, murders, and a plethora of other problems.
For their largest category, cities with a population of more than 500,000 residents, the FBI recommends a concentration of 2.8 officers per 1,000 population. Cities like New York and Los Angeles come close, but Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth “metroplex” barely make the national average of 1.8 officers per 1,000 population. They’re understaffed by a whopping 36 percent!
According to Houston’s (liberal, black, Democrat) mayor, there’s no money in the budget to hire more policemen.
But giving credit where credit is due—the crime rates for everything from murder to burglaries are lower in Houston than they are in New York City. The Houston PD is obviously doing something right.
But hiring more officers requires money. Not just money for salaries and benefits, but money for uniforms and equipment. And cars. And training.
TRAINING is an area where Type One and Type Two departments need a lot of financial help. In Type One departments, especially, newly-hired officers are often given a uniform, a gun, and a badge, and sent out into the field with no training except a book of laws.
Every new recruit should have the advantage of at least the four-week basic course at the regional Police Academy. The full course, which averages ten to thirteen weeks, would be better, but the basic course should be an absolute minimum. But as I pointed out earlier, the cost of that basic course is $10,000 or more per officer.
EQUIPMENT is probably the least important financial need for most departments, but it’s still important—especially for the Type One departments. For many of those departments, the sum total equipment the new recruit is issued is a gun, a badge, and a box of ammunition.
NOW. . .before some liberal reader leaves a nasty comment saying I’m ignoring the very real problem of police brutality, let me address that issue.
Yes, police brutality exists. It can (and probably does) exist in any department, but it’s most prevalent in Type Three departments. The reason is simple. It’s easy for the cruel bigot or murderous racist to hide in a department where there are hundreds or thousands of officers.
Derek Chauvin, The Minneapolis police officer indicted in the death of George Floyd, had eighteen previous complaints against him alleging excessive use of force. In one of those complaints, the suspect died. And yet Chauvin was still on duty, with no disciplinary action taken against him.
At the time Chauvin murdered George Floyd, there were more than 800 officers in the Minneapolis PD, down from 1160 just a few years earlier.
Someone in the Minneapolis Police Department chain of command failed George Floyd and the people of Minneapolis. Those same people are probably failing them today. There are probably several more police officers in the department who will do something brutal if given a chance.
So yes, police brutality exists. There are people in many police departments across the country who are there just because of the power they think the badge and the gun give them. But they are a tiny percentage of the total department. To disband the whole department to get rid of those people is to throw the baby out with the bath water.
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINT: While I was writing this Commentary, I had a conversation with an acquaintance of mine. This gentleman is about my age, retired, and a hard-line conservative Trump supporter. He’s on my email list for my Commentaries. When I told him what I was writing, he offered this thought.
“I think the anarchists are right. We should do away with all the law enforcement agencies—police, sheriff department, marshal service, FBI, all of it. We should go back to the way it was after the Civil War, when everybody carried a gun. If you had a problem with somebody, you settled it out in the middle of Main Street at high noon.
“If some guy tried to hold up a bank or a liquor store, he’d get shot by six or eight of the customers. If a rapist tried to mess with a woman on a dark street, she’d whip out her little Derringer and blow him away. Save the county the cost of a trial.
“Here’s another thought. Instead of keeping the murderers on Death Row for twenty or thirty years, filing appeal after appeal, we could start having public hangings down at the town square every Saturday night. Of course, we’d give ‘em a fair trial before we hung ‘em.
”Tell you something else. Seeing a few of those hangings would straighten out a lot of those young hoodlums who think it’s great fun to loot stores, burn cars, and attack policemen. The courts, jails, and Sunday Schools obviously aren’t getting the job done.”
He may have a point.