13 years old
7th Grade (Homeschooled)
The word ‘police’ comes from the Greek word for city, polis. Over time it developed into the Latin root politia, meaning civil administration. Since then it has become the French word for regulating and controlling a community and later turned into the word we know today. Police. When we think of police, we think of men in blue uniforms, maybe with guns or even in a crisis, saving lives or other times interfering with things they shouldn’t be. We hear a lot in the news today about how police saved the day, how police risked their lives to save an individual or a group but we are also hearing about gun violence and police brutality. As I learned more and more about this topic of interest, the police, I began to wonder how actual policemen are viewing this issue, what other people in my community think and what my views should be. In this paper we are going to learn about the issue of police brutality, what actually officers think about this attention, police heroism, the history of police in America and other countries, the training of a police officer, gun violence, and many more things. I believe this issue is important to learn about because of how many strong opinions I have heard and how much our lives overlap with policing. Even in ways we don’t know about. By the time you have reached the conclusion of my paper I hope you have learned more about this topic and have developed more of an opinion.
There are two sides of the history of Police that have merged together over time to create the force we know today. One side is a story of heroism and members of colonial communities stepping up to protect each other, the other, not so much. First we are going to look into the slave trade. In the 1600’s and 1700’s the United States, specifically New England and Florida were being flooded with ships from coastal regions bringing in slaves to shackle and sell to the highest bidders. In this time there was an immediate call to the community for workers to help manage the large numbers of slaves and maintain order. A few wealthy slave owners were hiring men to ride along the farm fields and factories on horseback and make sure no slaves were running away or doing things that broke the slave holders’ rules.They were called the Partollers, or pattyrollers. At first this need started out small, just a few people up for the task, but by the late 1670’s the system had turned into one of the biggest organizations of its time in the United States. In a report published by the Medium, entitled Slavery and the Origins of the American Police State, they called it ‘a comprehensive system of radially directed law enforcement.’
The second branch was started by a small group of community members in a colonial village who stepped up to become a part of protecting the new country. They would patrol around neighborhoods, night and day, making sure everyone was safe and protecting each other from the threats in this new world. These two types of law enforcement brought about by new needs of a growing community combined in later years. Taking the bravery and strength from the community and the new rules and regulations to keep the community in line from the government. I suppose the history of police is complex and multifaceted. The bad side coming from slavery and ratial inequality and the good side coming from bravery and strength in numbers. A lot of people would say that there is only the bad side of it. That the negatives in the history of police outweigh the positives. But I think that that’s ignoring a powerful step in the building and the history of humanity and the United States. Others might say that we don’t need to think about the negative things, that because the members of this community stepped up and were brave that we can ignore the other half of this history. But I also think that would be neglecting an important piece of information and denying that this history is both good and bad.
Historians and politicians divide the history of police into three eras. First, the political era. This was a time where there was controversy on the purpose of police and what their goal was. They were people to trust and people to be wary of at the same time. Next was the professional era. When police were first becoming an actual paying job and police officers were taken seriously. This time was full of invention and creativity. Based in 1920 to 1970, at the end of World War I and the beginning of a Republican leadership, police were taking on a role in American Society and protecting the community as they always did. But with the changing times and the brewing thoughts of World War II, the police were also becoming more military based. Last was the community era: when police really took it into their own hands to protect the community and people volunteered to help and risk their lives for others. Now, some people in the United States are looking forward to a fourth era. While we don’t know what this era would look like it would probably focus around some members of the community wanting the police force to change in small or major ways due to gun violence, police brutality and racial and gender inequality.
The training that makes a police officer differs from state to state and country to country but there is a basic process of training most officers go through. In Massachusetts the minimum age you can become a police officer is 19 but other places differ from 17 to 21. Former officer Ali Wicks-Lim, described her time at the Police Academy for me in an interview. She said that the training process known as ‘paramilitary training’ is designed to prepare you to interfere physically in a fight, how to shoot a gun and how to arrest someone in the field but also how to act in high pressure situations and emotionally charged interactions. Ali described how police officers at the Academy took the cadets neatly folded clothing and dumped it all in a pile on the ground while ordering them to do different things all at once. This exercise was to ready them for situations in the field that didn’t go their way such as an interaction with a civilian resulting in conflict or a domestic violence situation that results in confrontation. Chief Kasper of Northampton explained that the academy prepares you for a variety of things but you can never really prepare yourself for field work.
The Weapons Police Use and Gun Violence in the United States
Police carry an assortment of weapons including a variety of handguns, rifles, shotguns, pepper spray, tear gas, and batons on a daily basis. There is a long history of police misusing these weapons in different ways. On June 11, 2019 in Phoenix Arizona, a police officer was fired for pulling a gun out on a four year old African American girl and her parents when she took a doll form a Dollar Store accidentally. And there is a long list of dead civilians and police who have been killed from these weapons. But police also use these weapons to save lives everyday. In USA Today’s paper, they stated that “nearly 90% of police agree that mass shootings would be ‘reduced’ or ‘avoided altogether,” if everyone carried a gun. Another statistic showed that over 60% of gun owners carry them because they say needed protection. Recently a report came out by Investor’s Business Daily that said that over 11,000 lives are saved every year from guns and about a fourth of that number is saved by police with guns. Yet, still in 2017 there were over 39,773 deaths from gun violence. Police use these weapons to protect us but there are still consequences. Imagine what the police force would look like without guns.There may be a significant decrease in gun violence but what if an officer encounters someone with a gun who has reason to act violently? Northampton’s Chief of police, Jody Kasper, said that if we are trusting police officers to risk their lives for us then we must always give them the right to protect themselves as well. If we took away police officers guns we wouldn’t have the same police force but we would have much less gun violence and much less death. In England, some police do not carry guns on their person. Former officer Alli Wicks-Lim, said that her most important tool on her tool belt was her notebook.
At all times, police officers wear a duty belt that has all their equipment and weapons including a notebook, a walkie talkie and a handgun. Police officers are required to carry a gun at all times (in the United States) as protection and a notebook to take notes at a crime scene so that the information can come completely first hand.
Stereotypes and Views of the Police Force
During my research I have found that several websites and sources had a strong bias on this controversial topic. Sources that tend to be pro police often gave a lower number of civilian deaths caused by officers, and sources that tended to be anti police gave higher numbers. In many cases numbers were presented with missing details and misleading information. For example, many sources just reported the number of civilians killed, whereas others gave details of the crime committed by each civilian or the circumstances surrounding the death. This presents a clearer picture especially if an officer was under threat. Here I have gathered several statistics that I find considerably trustworthy and unbiased.
Police Officers on Duty
When we think of a police officer many people often think of the white, unsmiling men in blue uniforms with guns at their waists and an air of authoritarian aggression about them. There is also frequently an “us against them” mentality present, possibly bordered with fear or occasionally rooted in things we have heard from the current news dialog or from past experience. Questions arise when presented with this stereotype such as: “Doesn’t this field of work draw aggressive, power-hungry people?” or “Does this field of work and training force people to be like this?” The news often dictates the portrayal of the police as a group when in reality, every officer is different. Personality plays a big role in discouraging this stereotype. Many people in the police force can be stern and intimidating but a lot of people are really funny and interactive, just like it would be in a regular office building. We really need to discourage this negative stereotype if we want the police force to grow or change in any way. There are female police officers, there are African American police officers, there are LGBTQ members of our comuinity on the force. However, statistics show that only about 20% of police are female whereas about 80% of police are male. Transgender and LGBTQ members of police forces weren’t even included in most statistics. Around 75% of officers are white whereas only about 25% are black. If we want to continue to diversify our police forces, making them more representative of the communities they serve, we need to abandon these stereotypes. In order to continue to have a police force to protect us from gun violence to minor car crashes, we have to respect that they are people and they are just as different from each other as anyone else.
Women in Law Enforcement
Over the years the population of women in law enforcement has grown substantially. Many women in law enforcement believe they must go above and beyond, presenting the stern, cold, unforgiving image to prove themselves in the field and academy. Women can be judged more critically for their physical size and strength and have to work hard to overcome historical perceptions of women as being physically weak. The reality is that women are just as capable as their male counterparts of being good police officers and bring a different and unique way of enforcing the law and holding the public accountable. Women go through the same training as men and studies show that men and women are just as capable as each other.
Negative and incorrect stereotypes about African American people in our culture include the belief that African Americans are more likely to be poor and engage in criminal activity, and they are more likely to abuse substances and act as perpetrators of illegal gun activity. The labels given to Black people when they violate the law are often very different from the labels given to their White counterparts. For example, the media and public are very quick to point out mental illness as a contributing factor to gun violence massacres committed by White individuals, where Black individuals are usually just labeled as criminals and enemies of the public. There is also a common belief that African Americans are more responsible for the criminal activity in the US than White Americans are. In fact, according to some statistics, White people in the United States committed over 68.9% of crimes in 2017, while black people only committed 27.2%. It’s not that black people are more likely to commit crimes, but rather they are more likely to be convicted because of the stereotypes placed on black people in the United States. Other statistics show that in the U.S black people are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police than white people are.
The laws that govern our everyday lives are enforced by your local police force. Each police force is made up of real people who live and work in your community. Therefore, everything that happens to the police force directly impacts you and your community everyday. The issues and controversies surrounding the police are important for every citizen to pay attention to. Because so many people have started to pay attention to the police and look ahead to the fourth era of policing, there have been several major and important changes on the national and local level. For example, in 2015 the city of Northampton, Massachusetts elected its first female chief of police, Chief Kasper, and she has done an outstanding job to connect the community with police and discourage stereotypes of all kinds. Police academies strategies to combat racial inequality, police brutality and gun violence have developed and grown over the years to provide safety in the community. Support groups for police officers have grown and become a part of policing over time and are now helping the officers that risk their lives for us everyday to overcome emotional challenges. Most people don’t think about the police in their everyday lives. But, after reading this essay, wherever your bias may stand, we must keep learning and teaching others about police. Acknowledging the positive and negative aspects of policing in our country with honesty, curiosity, and an open mind will help us work towards the kind of society we want. On one hand, police officers choose to risk their lives everyday to protect us from small to big ways, from car crashes to school shootings. On another, the United States today, there are more children that die of gun violence than cancer every year. Only about 20% of officers in the US are women and just under 15% of officers are black, emphasizing the major gap in representation. Whatever your bias may be, if we want our police academy to grow and keep changing for the better, then we must educate ourselves about police.
“The civil force of a national or local government, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order.” – Dictionary
In an interview with me, Chief Jody Kasper of Northampton stated that “The purpose of the police is to maintain order and insure people have the best quality of life they can have.”
Police Brutality: “Police brutality is an extreme form of police violence involving physical harm or death to a person or animal. Widespread police brutality exists in many countries and territories, even those that prosecute it. Although illegal, it can be performed under the color of law.” – Wikipedia
Guns: Police officers in the US are required to carry a gun on them at all times. Originally, this invention was used to defend yourself but over the years it has been turned into a weapon that most fear. The official definition of a gun is: “a weapon incorporating a metal tube from which bullets, shells, or other missiles are propelled by explosive force, typically making a characteristic loud, sharp noise.”
Bias: As described earlier in this paper, a bias is a preconceived belief system or idea that is rooted in past experiences or things we have heard that help us come to a conclusion or answer when making a decision.
Stereotype: Put simply, a stereotype is “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” – Dictionary
Colonial: The definition of colonial as a whole is a group of living things working together to build a community and a systematic way of life that depends on each other for food, water, shelter and many other things. But since the age of Christopher Columbus, the word colonial stands to represent the history of the US.
Slavery: “A slave is a person owned by someone and slavery is the state of being under the control of someone where a person is forced to work for another. A slave is considered as a property of another as the one controlling them purchases them or owns them from their birth.” – US Legal Dictionary https://definitions.uslegal.com/s/slavery/
Pattyrollers: “Slave patrols called patrollers, patterrollers, pattyrollers or paddy rollers, by the slaves, were organized groups of armed white men who monitored and enforced discipline upon black slaves in the antebellum U.S. southern states.” – Wikipedia
Appendix 1. Politics and Current Events
In the news today we hear a lot about the police. The information sources provide differs substantially due to their bias, the date they were published, who they were sponsored by and many other factors. In this section of my paper I want to look at some examples of bias sources, politicians views on this topic, reliable resources to learn about the police from and events that are happening in the news and in our community today.
First, we are going to look into the beliefs some politicians and democratic presidential candidates running for the 2020 election may hold. In his time running for office, Cory Booker has shown that he has many ideas to combat police brutality and racial inequality in law enforcement. He believes that we must follow the data to the root of the problem and sort up from there. In a video released a few months ago, Booker said that if we do this we can “identify problems and actually help solve them.” He believes that society’s stereotypes are to blame for racial descrimination, not law enforcement as a whole. And while many police officers may hold untrue beliefs about black people and abuse their power this is the same for many other individuals in society, we should not place another incorrect and unfair stereotype on police that they are all racist. In contrast to Cory Booker, Julián Castro, another democratic candidate running for election in 2020, believes that law enforcement needs to be rethought completely. “How many of these videos do we have to watch to understand that even though we have some great police officers, this is not a case of bad apples?” He asked a few months ago, “The system is broken, so let’s fix it.” Another Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, believes that the system we have now is the best one we could ever dream of. “We can fight terror and fight violent crime at the same time, but we need to keep focused on what works,” He said in a speech he made a few years ago. “And what works in the fight against crime? It’s simple — more police on the streets.” Biden still backs these beliefs strongly. Talking to a group of officers a few years ago he said,”We are safer and more secure today than we have been in decades, thanks to your hard work and dedication.”
There are many sources today to learn more about police, politicians, racial inequality and gun violence. It is interesting sometimes, to research topics from one point of view and then from another when finding what your opinion is. From one point the history of police stems from slavery and if that is true we can overlook other factors, like where we are today and how many lives police have saved. And from another point we can look past the fact the police have saved so many lives because of the lives we have lost, police and not, from this field of duty. Here I have collected a list of sources that have a strong bias but are extremely interesting to research. While looking into these sites pay attention to who is sponsoring them, how eager they are or aren’t to put forward their bias and the stereotypes they do or don’t play into and encourage.
The Trace (a very ani-police organization so make sure to keep in mind their bias),
Fox News (an extremely right-wing organization who is very pro police)
NPR (their bias is usually liberal and whether they are ani police or pro police differs due to circumstances)
USA Today (another generally pro- police source, mostly right – wing, pay attention to who they quote and how eager they are to let their bias show in this paper)
The New York Times (their bias differs from paper to paper but keep in mind they are probably more likely to release information on police brutality than others)
Appendix 2. Interviews
To get a better idea of what police officers today think of these issues and to learn more about police as a whole I interviewed three different kinds of police officers in my community. To put their quotes and references into context, I have created a short profile for each.
Ali worked as a college campus police officer. In her time there she did everything from working overnight shifts and responding to calls to organizing self defense classes and community outreach programs for the students and staff. She was also a sensitive crimes investigator which meant that if there were any incidents of a sensitive nature she would run those investigations. She has worked hard to protect the students living and learning on campus.
Sean Norris works as an Assistant Chief Probation Officer in Dorchester Massachusetts. A probation officer is someone who works with individual offenders of the law to help prevent them from committing new crimes and to hold them accountable to their old ones. He has worked with the Probation Department for over 23 years and before that he was a social worker for nine. He believes that his job requires the skill set of both a police officer and a social worker and incorporates this belief everyday in his job.
Chief Kasper became the first woman chief of police of Northampton, in 2015. Since then she has worked her hardest to improve Northampton in so many ways including connecting members of the community with officers on a daily basis, discouraging stereotypes about women in law enforcement and being there for her community not only as an officer and chief but as a human and citizen herself. Being the first woman chief of police in Northampton, she has done an outstanding job, not only living up to the standards of the last chief, but going beyond them for her community and her officers.
Appendix 3. Other Points of Interest
The KGB: Translated to English, the KGB stands for Committee for State Security. It was the main security organization for the Soviet Union from 1954 to 1991. But for most it didn’t provide security. For many this organization was built on fear and pain and that was the only thing they brought. They were considered a form of extreme police. Their leaders and founders were part of the Council of Ministers; Kliment Voroshilov, Nikolay Pegov , Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1990-10-23-9003280898-story.html
Special Police: “Special police usually describes a police force or unit within a police force whose duties and responsibilities are significantly different from other forces in the same country or from other police in the same force, although there is no consistent international definition.” – Wikipedia
The definition of the Special Police differs from place to place. Most police forces have small groups of officers that have specific jobs they are assigned. The specific jobs range from traffic stops, security, patrolling campuses, detective work, highway patrol, fish and game wardens and many more.
Waxman, Olivia. “How the U.S. Got its Police Force.” Time Magazine, May 18th, 2017, https://time.com/4779112/police-history-origins/
“Police Brutality in the United States.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_brutality_in_the_United_States
Fountain, Ben. “Slavery and the Origins of the American Police State.” The Medium, Sep 17, 2018, https://medium.com/s/story/slavery-and-the-origins-of-the-american-police-state-ec318f5ff05b
Moore, Leonard. “Police Brutality in the United States.” Britannica, July 8th, 2016, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Police-Brutality-in-the-United-States-2064580
French, David. “How to Sustain a False Police Shooting Crisis.” National Review, August 26th, 2016, https://www.nationalreview.com/2016/08/police-shootings-media-created-fake-crisis/
Lebron, Audrea. “Examples of Community Policing Strategies at Work.” Rave, April 10th, 2019, https://www.ravemobilesafety.com/blog/examples-of-community-policing-strategies-at-work
Schodolski, Vincent. “KGB Legacy of Abuse Faces Soviet Enquiry.” Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1990-10-23-9003280898-story.html
Pratt, Eric. Gin owners of America.” USA Today, Aug 5th, 2005, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/08/05/gun-owners-america-guns-save-lives-every-day-editorials-debates/1916643001/
“13 Statistics That Tell the Story of Gun Violence in 2018.” The Trace, December 25th, 2018
Wadman, Meredith. “Guns kill more U.S. kids than cancer. This emergency physician aims to prevent those firearm deaths.” The AAAS, Dec 6th, 2018 https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/12/guns-kill-more-us-kids-cancer-emergency-physician-aims-prevent-those-firearm-deaths
“The Washington Post Police Shooting Database.” Washington Post, 2017 https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2017/
“Police Officers.” Data USA, https://datausa.io/profile/soc/333050/
Buchholz, Kathrina. “How Many People Are Killed by Police in the U.S.?” Statista, Nov. 1st, 2019 https://www.statista.com/chart/5211/us-citizens-killed-by-police-2016/
Chappell, Bill. “More Police Officers Died From Gunfire Than Traffic Incidents In 2018, Report Says.” NPR, December 27th, 2018 https://www.npr.org/2018/12/27/680410169/more-police-officers-died-from-gunfire-than-traffic-incidents-in-2018-report-say