Why Cops Resist Police Reform

Perspectives from a 5-year officer

By Ross Valstyn  |   Aug 31, 2016

Police reform has been, and continues to be, a hot topic in law enforcement circles over the past few years. Some of the ideas for what reform looks like seem to be common sense: departments addressing use-of-force incidents with the public as quickly as possible without jeopardizing ongoing investigations, for example. Other ideas fly in the face of years of psychological research, but pacify critics: seeking to do away with the “48-hour rule,” for example, which grants officers involved in severe incidents a minimum of two sleep cycles before being asked to make a statement. Still other proposed reforms are bewildering: pushes in recent months to disarm police departments completely or abolish the police altogether, for examples.

I’m an officer with 5 years on the job with my agency. The majority of my friends in this career have roughly the same amount of time working as police officers. My opinions on police reform are my own, born out of my own experiences.

Room for Improvement

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Law enforcement officers make mistakes. We’re human beings called to do an incredibly difficult job in our society. I also think everyone in this profession would agree that every agency, and the profession as a whole, can be improved. We can always do better.

While we seek to improve our profession, the speed at which the change is happening seems to be glacial, especially when compared to how quickly the world at large is changing and the instantaneous influence of social media.

If you haven’t yet, watch Brian Willis’ Ted Talk, entitled “The Most Dangerous Weapon in Law Enforcement.” One of his points is that we in law enforcement need to communicate with our communities and those we protect more effectively. I don’t think anyone would disagree. Better communication with our communities would serve the purpose of not only letting the citizens we protect know why what we did or do is necessary, but how we can help each other to do better for everyone.

And seeing our agency administration, leaders, and elected officials explaining to the community why a situation went the way it did might help to communicate to officers that we are supported in what we do.

Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of our departments are very good about supporting officers, just like the vast majority of citizens support what we do day-to-day. We know that the silent majority realize we are doing the best we can in a tough job. But when the loudest members of the public are chanting for dead cops; our elected officials are granting legitimacy to groups calling for the abolishment or death of police officers; and public figures avoid having unpopular but necessary conversations with people who seem to look for any reason to create an uproar—is it any wonder why officers become discouraged and lose faith in those we protect and serve?

We are only human. Add to that the fact most 5-year officers are millennials who have one or more social media accounts, and the constant bombardment of vitriol by those decrying legal and necessary actions taken by officers seems inescapable. Given all these factors, it’s understandable that most cops are, at best, leery of would-be reformers. Again, it’s not that we don’t believe we can do better. We adamantly do. But when you mix in voices calling for our deaths or impugning us from the onset, it’s hard to find middle-ground.

Conclusion

It would be a shame to lose members of the best-trained, most accountable generation of police officers this country has ever seen because elected officials chose to be popular rather than correct; members of the public chose to remain silent rather than challenge an obviously false narrative; and officers of all ranks chose to give up trying to make their communities better and safer because they feel like it’s hopeless. Each of those choices is taking the easy way out, and we can all do better. We must all do better, because we’re all in this together.