When I was growing up, I would have never applied the word “cop” to a police officer. It wasn’t respectful, and I was taught to respect police. They were there to protect me.
I don’t feel that way anymore. The police culture has changed so radically that “cop” seems too respectful for many of them. There are still some who are decent and worthy of respect, but their numbers seem to be dwindling.
I thought about that this week when I heard the news that Andy Griffith had died. As the iconic Sheriff Andy Taylor, above right, on the Andy Griffith Show, he epitomized what a small-town peace officer should be. And his attitude represented what any police officer should have. In a world where police officers are expected to act more like military storm troopers, his character still provides a stark contrast.
He cared about the people he served. He tried to do what was right for everyone, sometimes including ignoring infractions when it served justice better. And he did it all without regularly carrying a gun.
In the midst of thinking this week about what Griffith’s portrayal of a small-town sheriff represented, Radley Balko posted two videos comparing recruiting efforts by two very different police departments. You can see the videos below. Which one represents the kind of police you’re you’d like?
One of them, for the Newport Beach, Calif., Police Department, seems like a promo for a TV show about a military-style assault unit which sees the public as an enemy. The other one, for the Decatur, Ga., Police Department, seems more like an updated version of a style of policing that Sheriff Andy Taylor would have approved of. Which of these departments would you rather have to deal with if you had a problem? The one for Newport Beach makes me want to stay out of that city, because their police scare me.
Which of these do you want to be the model that police follow today? The public needs protection against criminals, so some form of a police force is necessary. But what do we want? Storm troopers or community servants?
Police culture has moved strongly in favor of militarization and adversarial attitudes. I’ll never respect that, but I’d be happy to show some respect to police who understand that they’re there to protect, serve and respect the people who are paying their salaries.