Police officers: friendly or the enemy?

Has the “to bust and fine”mentality replaced “to protect and serve?”

by Steven Snyder

To protect and serve: It is the motto of the nation’s police force. They ensure the common peace and, at times, risk their safety and lives to ensure that peace. When we think of police officers, no doubt many of us think of heroic, stoic figures who demand respect and gratitude.

But beyond the frequent bank robberies, car chases and domestic abuse cases we read about in the newspaper, the relationship between the average citizen and the police has become increasingly adversarial and hostile.

Despite having only two driving citations on my record, even I have a negative perception of the police. I was cited for driving on a road under construction, even though I clearly stated I was lost, and witnessed the brutal beating of a passive University student during the 2003 hockey riots.

Beyond riots, most day-to-day interactions with police tend to skew towards the negative. I hear many friends complain about parking tickets issued for meters expired five to 10 minutes, or about police who blast their sirens to get through an intersection, and then turn the lights off.

More than anything else, when I think of the police, I envision a dark car, lights off, hiding with a radar gun trying to catch an unwitting speeder. Rather than looking for dangerous drivers or offering assistance to stranded motorists, it is more important to wait until the small red numbers indicate it’s time to pounce.

With this perspective I read a July 29 Washington report, D.C., in which subway police frisked and arrested a female scientist for daring to – get ready – eat a PayDay candy bar on the subway.

Are police so worried about someone challenging their authority and fixated on generating revenue that “to bust and fine” has replaced “to protect and serve?”

Adults wonder why youth have a negative perception of police. Part of the reason might be this excessive desire to catch someone doing something wrong. This combative relationship is a far cry from the collaborative one their motto promises.

On the same subway in 200, a 12 year old was handcuffed for eating french fries. Will that little girl will grow up to respect police, or view them with the same sense of skepticism and cynicism as I, and so many others, do?

Steven Snyder welcomes feedback at [email protected]