Swickard: Who protects citizens from the police?

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. “When you have police officers who abuse citizens, you erode public confidence in law enforcement. That makes the job of good police officers unsafe.” Mary Frances Berry
     One of the major changes in my lifetime is the plunge of public opinion about community police officers. As I a child in the 1950s police officer was one of the big four occupations young boys wanted to do when they grew up: policeman, fireman, military or cowboy.
     Today Firemen are still admired as are the military. Cowboys have a much smaller part in people’s awareness, even people who like beef. Then there are the police. Growing up like other young boys at times I wished to one day serve as a police officer.
     Andy Griffith was America’s favorite Police Chief and upheld the law with dignity, humor and intelligence. Yes, it was a fictional show. But the role was the way many old-time policemen operated. They were people I knew and respected. They held the line of the law without abusing their power.
     Now it seems most law-abiding citizens fear the police because of the news stories of the police abusing their authority. Or they themselves have been abused. Clement Freud observed, “I think our police are excellent, probably because I have not done anything that has occasioned being beaten up by these good men.” But many Americans are injured or killed by the police without good reason.
     An elderly Atlanta women had her hearing-aid off when a no-knock police swat team burst in looking for a drug seller, but they had the wrong house. She died in a hail of bullets. This happens way too often. Then there is the incredible story from Deming about a search for drugs that ended up costing taxpayers $1.6 million dollars in compensation, and, to the best of my knowledge, the perpetrators still serve in that police department.Read full column