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January 25th, 2016 by Robert Ringstrom

Police officers must acknowledge that with great power comes great responsibility.  The origin of this wise adage is uncertain; but it might also serve as a warning.  History is rife with examples of strong public figures who have misused the power relegated to them by the populace. Frequently they have also found themselves shamefully divested of that power by the very masses that had previously lauded them. This adage serves as a reminder that governments and police in particular; serve at the will of the people. Police officers must never lose sight of the social and historical context within which they operate.  Their real authority is not based on their threat of, or their use of force.  It is their ability to build relationships that disarm resistance to social order.

Police DisarmingAny suggestion that this formula is a simple one would be a gross misjudgment. We are in the age of the internet. The Web has provided us with countless layers and divisions of “cultures”.  Today, most Americans can express themselves and their opinions with an equal volume.  Alliances are made, divisions established and sides taken. Good information is shared, half-truths are ‘blasted’ and enemies created. These are the ever-evolving complexities of American and world cultures.  In author Seth Godin’s book; Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, he defines tribes as: “any group of people, large or small, (sp) connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. (SP) might be religious, ethnic, political, or even musical. It’s our nature.”  Godin questions, “Who is going to lead all these tribes?”   Godin’s point is well taken. There is a vacuum of leadership within this loud disarray of “tribes”.  When tribes and crowds devolve into angry mobs, it is the police officer’s leadership that is summoned to restore peace.

20160122_150154_resizedAmerican policing has always had its proud moments. But it has also experienced periods of shameful embarrassment. In the 1600’s, small communities policed themselves.  They relied on public disapproval, tar-and-feathering; or simple shunning to keep conflicts in check.  By the early 1800’s, large eastern cities had established police departments patterned after Robert Peel’s English “bobbies”, interdicting with moral and ethical guidance. But later, immigration riots and workers’ strikes needed policing and “breaking” to protect people, property, and the status quo. police disarming

In the west, the law was enforced oftentimes crudely. In the South, sheriffs enforced slavery laws before the Civil War and “Jim Crow” laws after the war to preserve the culture. Policing tended to reflect the interests of the ruling economics through Prohibition.  Some cops were taking bribes and breaking laws that they disagreed with along with much of the nation.  The sixties brought race riots and protests against the Vietnam War; putting the police in the middle again trying to contain the status quo.

police disarmingThe evolution of Community Policing  over the last 30-40 years could be described as the acknowledgement of the principle upon which the police are expected to represent the public.  In spite of any utopic notions for a harmonious society, conflicts inevitably persist.  However; conflict can also prove valuable. With conflict, ideas and concepts can also grow into compromise and understanding.  Leadership by the police is an essential social medium.  It rises in importance as disturbances turn increasingly more violent.  Police leadership can be the defining solution when things shift into crisis mode.  Addressing a seemingly endless list of challenges is their responsibility; their duty.  Police are expected to offer assurance that peace will be restored decisively with understanding and compassion; that it will be done intelligently and equitably.  The police can expect the greatest success by disarming the tensions that have lit the fuse.

End of Part I  of  III


  1. March 20, 2016 at 7:03 am, Judit Regev said:

    For some years I’ve been meaning to writer about the subject regarding whats happening in Israel which is where I live.
    Great article Robert and sure is giving out the right message.
    I believe we can change by parenting beffer


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