Wrong approach to police reform

Aug 06, 2020

The people bringing a petition to the Rockland City Council with the objective of defunding the police department have good intentions, but this is not the right way to improve things in our community.

We support getting the message out that Black Lives Matter and believe police should be accountable for any use of force.

First, let’s look at the problem.

We have seen in the national news that police need improved training and leadership to prevent events such as the murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd was killed when former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for about eight minutes. Video of this event prompted protests across the nation and even in other countries aimed at bringing about police reform.

The message that Black Lives Matter is not a statement that black lives matter more than those of white people or anyone else. The problem has been systemic for many years that in some parts of the country, police are willing to use more force when arresting black citizens, and they instinctively or deliberately use less force dealing with white residents.

It is already assumed in our society that white lives matter, and we know this because we enjoy that privilege. White residents, for the most part, do not worry when walking out on the street at night that just their presence will prompt someone to call police, or that they will be shot by police in a quickly escalating confrontation.

When people say Black Lives Matter, they are reminding people that Black Lives Matter just as much as every other life. It is Black Lives also Matter. It is not an affront to the idea that all lives matter.

Maine is not entirely free of this problem. The Attorney General's Office failed to oversee police when they kill citizens. Not once in the history of its review of police shootings has one been found to be unjustified, but there is evidence that suggests some shootings should not have happened.

We support ending the “good old boys’ club” mentality in some rural police departments in Maine. We support better training and a higher level of accountability for police officers in this state. We oppose militarizing police, as we have seen with some of the weapons departments are stockpiling and the general culture some departments have adopted. Why, for example, were snipers on the roofs of buildings in Portland during peaceful protests?

However, we also face a reality that police are not going to be obsolete in our lifetimes, no matter what other services and changes are made in our community. We heartily agree with the petitioners that there is a need for increased mental health services, and that a one-size fits all approach to policing does not work.

We would argue that providing national health care, improving education and ensuring things like maternity and paternity leave and vacations would create a better quality of life and reduce crime. Increasing minimum wage was also a step in the right direction as poverty leads to desperate acts and increased substance abuse.

But here in the City of Rockland, we have good police officers who are here to protect and serve us. We report on our local courts and see the cases going through, which are quite often cases of domestic abuse in which a bullied person needs help from a police officer. Many of these cases are life and death.

It was only a few years ago that a woman walking home from her job at a restaurant right here in Rockland was forced into a car by a kidnapper against her will. She fought bravely and Rockland Police officers noticed something was wrong and pursued. If they had not been there, the result would have been very different.

We have seen cases locally where officers would have been justified in shooting a person who was out of control, but they managed to deescalate the situation and keep anyone from being hurt. Just as a bad police officer can do terrible damage, a good police officer can save lives and improve our quality of life.

As the picture shows, our police chief was right there with the protesters on bended knee supporting them.

Even to freeze funding is to risk losing good officers who could look for better opportunities somewhere they will be appreciated.

We believe in and support your cause, and we applaud residents and citizens for being active and interested and for looking for solutions.

However, we think there might be a better approach, and the best first step to finding that approach would be to sit down with our local police officers in a community meeting and talk out the issues.

They are here to help and we believe they sincerely want to do just that.

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