Why Don’t We Know More About Our Police?

By now the pattern is so familiar most of us could write the headlines without seeing a single, horrifying video.

This week we were stunned again by the viral video of Spring Valley High School Resource Officer Deputy Ben Fields savagely taking down a female high school student in class.

She survived the ordeal and (surprisingly) Deputy Fields was fired.

Usually the story is much grimmer.

The story goes like this: a young unarmed man of color is shot and killed by a police officer.

A video documenting the death is posted on You Tube. It will be clear to everyone watching the video the police officer (or officers) will appear to be using excessive force.

The officer is put on paid administrative leave.

Public officials will hold a hastily put together press conference announcing an investigation.

Broadcast and print news will dig into the life of the dead person and unearth the smallest details about the victim’s life and family.

We will learn if the deceased had a criminal record. If his parents or other family members had criminal records. If the deceased is a child, we know whether he was a good, average or bad student.

We will know how often he attended church, what sports he played and if he had ever been suspended or disciplined at school.

The media narrative will point to possible reasons the deceased caused his own death.

There might be protests.

Maybe the deceased’s name will trend on Twitter.

But eventually the DA will announce the end of the investigation and declare the shooting “justified.” The police officer will be cleared for duty.

Meanwhile we will learn almost nothing about the police officer. His name will barely be mentioned, if at all.

His presence on social media will be wiped clean.

We will not see his photo published thousands of times.

We will know nothing of his background. Where he grew up. What kind of person he is or why he became a police officer.

We will not learn about the kind of neighborhood he lives in.

We will not learn about the police academy where he trained nor how many times he took the police exam before he passed.

We will not learn about his supervisors or what kind of policing culture existed in his department.

We will not learn about his military service nor if he saw combat if he did serve.

We will not learn about how many times he (voluntarily or involuntarily) changed police departments.

We will not learn about whether he received CIT (crisis intervention training) or implicit bias training.

We will not learn about how many excessive force complaints were filed against him nor about civil lawsuits filed against him or his department.

We will not learn if he had ever received a psychological evaluation or treatment for trauma or PTSD.

We will know nothing about the police officer who committed the shooting and every minute, excruciating detail about his victim.

What is wrong with this picture?

We need the police in our communities.

We need their protection and their trust.

We need to be able to trust them.

Police have a difficult and often thankless job. But just as not everyone is not cut out to be a surgeon, lawyer or an accountant, not just any one should be allowed to become a police officer.

Their job is to protect and serve.

We need to be able to hold our police to a higher standard because we put our lives in their hands.  We deserve to understand the background and training of each and every officer who wears the badge and carries a gun.

Because encounters with the police are increasingly life or death situations.

Here’s my challenge the next time you see one of these awful videos (and sadly, I think there will be more) or read about a shooting.

Ask the question: Who is this police officer?

Insist the media not just limit their coverage to the victim but to the officer (or officers) who committed the shooting.

Insist the media release (once verified) the officer’s name and his picture.

Insist they dig as deeply into the background of the officer as they do the person they killed.  We are entitled to this information. Our lives depend on it.

Your turn. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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