Better cops make for better communities
I never did buy in to the “defund the police” movement that swept the country a few years ago. Yes, the spate of police shootings and beatings of innocent people or of people accused of minor crimes revealed serious problems in many law enforcement agencies. Those crimes captured on video ignited an important debate.
But to have a society where we can be safe in our homes and can go about our daily lives requires law enforcement. The reality is that there are bad people out there, people who live by different moral and ethical codes than most of us. And there are those who suffer from mental health problems who can be dangerous to themselves and others. A civil society must have law and order to function.
What those horrible atrocities committed by law enforcement officers revealed was a need for police reform. And there’s evidence that reform is happening, as our local law enforcement officials noted in a story in last week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News about SB 300, a state bill signed into law last September.
The policing reform measure contains several provisions, but its intention was to increase law enforcement officer accountability, reduce the number of officer-involved “critical incidents,” and increase transparency of policing in North Carolina. The bill has its critics and its supporters, but it’s a good first step in the right direction.
Perhaps the most important reform from the bill was the creation of a database that tracks the use of excessive or deadly force by law enforcement officers. This allows those doing the hiring to know if a candidate for a law enforcement job has had problems in the past that could lead to the kind of incidents that have upset so many.
Originally, however, that information was going to be a public record that anyone could access. However, according to the Charlotte Observer, “legislation passed since then has concealed from the public just about everything in the database, including the officers’ names; whether an investigation found use of force justified; and what discipline was received by officers in unjustified shootings.”
Dawn Blagrove, executive director of the criminal justice nonprofit Emancipate NC, had this to say about the bill: “SB300 makes important strides …. but does little else to create much needed equity or advance the level of accountability for law enforcement the people need.”
But we won’t solve all the problems in law enforcement just by creating new laws. What’s needed is training, and that is often hard to come by for small towns and rural counties. They are often short-staffed and just don’t have the resources available to their urban counterparts.
That’s where organizations like the North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs can help. Its executive director, Bill Hollingsed — former chief of police in Waynesville — is one of the good cops, a man who has spent his career emphasizing the need for professionalism and good training for his officers. It was reflected during his tenure in Waynesville by the accolades heaped on his officers.
This is what Hollingsed told our reporter for the story in last week’s edition: “We are fully cognizant that there are people in this profession that don’t need to be. They don’t need to have a badge and a gun. Nobody hates a bad cop worse than a good cop. It affects all of us.”
To help alleviate that issue, his goal is to see all 515 police and sheriff departments in North Carolina earn accreditation: “I don’t care if you’re a six-man agency or a 6,000-man agency, you are utilizing best practices in your policies and procedures to provide the best service to not only your people, but the communities you serve.”
Part of earning a North Carolina Law Enforcement Accreditation (NCLEA) is that standards are put in place and then the individual agencies are checked up on to make sure they are adhering to best practices.
“Whenever you have this accreditation process, you also have somebody coming in to check on you to hold you accountable. Everybody needs accountability,” said retiring Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher.
Better training and accountability may the two most fundamental police “reforms” that are needed. If both are indeed happening, that’s good for all the communities in our region and across the state.
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The Supreme Court ruled back in 2005 that the police do not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. We saw that ofcourse played out in various situations in recent years like in Uvalde Texas and Stoneman Douglas High School. The only function I see with law enforcement today is to arrest people and generate revenue by issuing tickets. As far as I am concerned, you can go ahead and defund them all day long.