The case for saving community policing
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I first put on a law enforcement uniform in 1984. It was one of the proudest days of my life. 

For every day since then, I have been proud to call myself a peace officer. Policing, and raising my family together with my wife, are my life’s work.

I have come face-to-face with the worst of humanity — but my commitment to law enforcement has never wavered. This resolve is supported by the knowledge I am not alone. I am part of a team of fellow law enforcement officers, public safety personnel, and four-legged friends (including my former canine partner, Fritz) who serve communities within California and across the United States. We work hard to make our communities better places to live.

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Protecting our neighbors is our mission — and to some extent our work is selfish. The true burden of our professional commitments falls on our families who do not know when we leave in the morning if we will come home at night. That daily uncertainty has grown over the past several years.It pains me to see my profession under attack — sometimes literally, but more often through a war of words and over-generalizations.

 

Recent events have stirred up a hornets’ nest of sadness and anger. Naturally, there is much emotion tied to incidents where someone, either an officer or a civilian, loses a life.

As in all occupations, law enforcement professionals may make mistakes. But because law enforcement is on the front lines of the economic and social changes gripping our nation, we recognize that our missteps can be more consequential and attract more attention than the mistakes of those who have chosen careers in which their job performance is not subject to public scrutiny.

We appreciate lawmakers who share our commitment to healing any breach between the police and the broader communities we serve. As with so many other issues affecting our nation and our communities, there are no easy answers. And although the problem is multifaceted, its perpetuation can be traced in part to insufficient resources.

The budgetary challenges facing states and localities since the start of the recession have strained the resources available to law enforcement. At the same time the responsibilities and burdens placed on police have increased dramatically.

Put simply: police are being asked to do more with less at a particularly tense time. In California, and across the country, as police are asked to do more, agency budgets are decreasing, leaving departments no choice but to  send out fewer and fewer officers to cover larger and larger territories.

This greatly increases the dangers an officer faces and means less resources are available for effective community policing and partnership.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program is an essential component of bridging that divided. Grants issued under the COPS Program are invaluable. They enable departments to hire officers needed to patrol the streets, develop and test innovative policing strategies and technology, and train and provide technical assistance to officers, other public safety personnel, and support staff.

The COPS Program is built upon the concept of community policing, a practice that is based on problem-solving, relationship-building, and trust, and has been highly successful in reducing crime on America’s streets. However, with demands on local law enforcement increasing as resources shrink, local departments do not have the resources needed for community policing. That is where the COPS Program, by enabling departments across to country to put more cops on the streets – comes in.

News media has reported that the COPS Program is going on the chopping block, something I hope will never happen. I urge policymakers to support the communities they represent—the communities we serve—by maintain and expanding funding for the COPS Program, which provides police with the resources required to effectively and safely carry out their critical duties.

There will always be safer jobs for my children than putting on a uniform and a badge—and although I’d be honored if my children chose to follow me into law enforcement, given the concerns I’ve expressed here, I am not sure it is an occupation I would recommend today.

I remain hopeful, however, that lawmakers will come together to support police and other public safety officers to ensure that this career will be one that our young people will be proud to choose.

Mike Durant is a Senior Deputy Sheriff with Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the President of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC). PORAC is a professional federation of local, state and federal public safety associations. Representing over 69,000 officers, PORAC is the largest public safety association in California and the largest statewide public safety association in the nation.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.