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Return to the "New" Normal?

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

May 20, 2021

Rich Alvarez, MPA

Clearwater, FL- You don't care about anyone else if you don't wear your mask! You're a paranoid a**hole if you wear one and can't tell me what to do!! Defund the police!! I back the blue 100%!! Open the schools back up, our kids can't learn this way!! Keep them shut down to save our kids' lives!!

It has been a crazy 12 months to be sure. I've never seen our society so divided in my lifetime, and I'm 51, although history says the 1960's were similar. I see racial and political tension, stress from a pandemic and its unknowns, and economic devastation for many small business owners. I've seen some of my local eateries close for good, as well as other small businesses, despite help from the government, which was often too little too late. Most of all, I see the media sewing more discord and fear than ever. Under the guise of reporting, our media has become completely editorial and biased one way or the other. People tune into news networks that align with their worldviews. Social media only contributes to the division and information sources are even more suspect. Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite, where just the facts were reported and the American people were left to make up their own minds. Today is the day when everything you hear must be fact-checked by multiple and unbiased sources, or at least as unbiased as one can find. You have to use similar tactics to writing a research paper in school before you believe anything. Most people do not have the time or inclination to do so, and some do not possess the ability, especially if they did not graduate from school.

All of this, along with social isolation and a steep increase in mental health issues due to it, have led to one of the deepest divisions in our society, where it often feels like civil war is right around the corner. I believe there is already a mostly non-shooting civil war occurring right before our eyes. Some of it has turned violent, like the BLM riots and the riot at the Capitol. It pains me to see my previous profession under severe attack based on anecdotal evidence played over and over again in front of our eyes in the media. The tarnishing of the badge by some very bad actors, who do not represent the vast majority of police officers, has come to mean that all police officers are evil and guilty of oppression until proven otherwise. Police policy and procedure are under attack, despite having evolved and honed with experience. They are having their knees chopped out from under them and their hands cuffed behind their back. Funding has been cut in numerous departments, especially in some major cities, and predictably, crime has risen dramatically. Retirements and resignations are also up precipitously, and recruitment, which was already in peril is down significantly, as well. Decisions about police work are being made by people who do not understand policing and without discussing with those that do. This will, and probably has, led to bad public policy.

At the same time, we can't deny what we've seen. There are some seriously bad apples in the bunch. While most departments have Internal Affairs units, smaller departments often do not. In larger departments, those officers are usually separated in their own area, and some are even undercover, in order to prevent biased decisions or pressure from co-workers to not charge fellow officers who act outside the bounds of policy and the law. Most departments in the US cannot afford to do that, so they rely on their detective bureau or supervisors to carry out the task. While most will do so in a professional manner, I'm sure the pressure of being branded a "rat" lead some to be reluctant to go after their fellow officers. This is bad for everyone that wears the badge. It creates a divide with the community and bad apples can be like a cancer to everyone else. This can lead to toxic cultures in some departments. Even though I'm "old school" where if you fought with the cops or resisted arrest, you were going to know not to do that again: If you were disrespectful, you were getting a ticket for what you pulled over for, no question, times have changed, like it or not. We've turned the corner from that era, and there is probably no going back. Police will have to figure out how to balance the need to do their jobs, ensure officer safety, and restore or maintain their trust and relationship with the communities they serve. One of the quickest ways to do that is to rid themselves of bad apples and the cancer that goes with it. They must also address mental health issues. The stigma about mental health must be done away with in police, first responder, and military culture altogether. It is a forgone conclusion that exposure to the types of things that these professions engage in WILL result in damage. This is normal, not a sign a weakness. The human mind is not meant to see or experience such things, especially on a regular basis. Compartmentalizing stuff only works so long. Eventually, those things you've stuffed away will come out. Many times, it comes out in an overreaction to the actual threat or stress encountered. There are techniques for stress inoculation, which should begin in the academy. Regular visits with therapists, not just after a major trauma like a shooting, should be mandatory and paid for by the department. Defunding will not help with any of this. If we want the sharpest officers we can get, it takes real investment in training, equipment, mental health, and better salaries to attract better talent.

Police are required to respond to all of our emergencies, including often being the first responders to medical emergencies, like COVID related emergencies and fires. Proper PPE is critical. So many of our first responders didn't have what they needed for the pandemic, and many police cars still lack a good medical kit and training to go with it. Heck, many don't even have fire extinguishers. Again, this all comes down to money. Proper funding is essential and very expensive. Public safety is, far and away, the largest parts of most local governments' budgets. Just remember the value in that when you need their help, not the images of the few bad apples (actual statistics, not a few stories and videos, bear this out). Most first responders are consummate professionals and want to maintain a safe community, which many live in themselves. They will give their lives to save yours, if necessary, even if you hate them or protest against them, which is your right.

So, what's the answer to all this division? I don't know, I'm just a regular guy. I do know that we have more in common than we are different. If we choose to focus on that instead of our differences, we will be making a huge step in the right direction. I do know that compromise is a good thing, not a bad thing as many partisan political commentators and politicians seem to believe. It's actually how things get done and real progress is made. I also happen to believe that belief in a higher power, not just ones self, money, or celebrities, is a grounding principle which are moving away from, to our detriment. My renewed belief in Jesus is testimony to how it can change someone. I know this blog won't change many minds, but it's my hope that it plants a seed in at least one person. That's where we start, first with ourselves, and then with one. If we each did that, imagine what the result would be.

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