“Of course they do,” you might say. “Don’t be stupid.”
But do they really?
Ok, but maybe they don’t.
“No, they do.”
Unless they don’t.
There are, in this country, large groups of people who don’t trust the police. These people are generally known as “the parts of the country’s population that aren’t the police”. That’s a sad situation, isn’t it? Police officers do a hard, thankless job, and the public generally views them with suspicion, scorn and fear. That isn’t how it should be. Part of this is the ever-expanding police powers that have been granted due to the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. But I think part of this is also due to the fact that the police carry, and too often use, guns.
This year in Phoenix alone, there have been fifteen officer-involved shootings, including one recently. That’s about one per week this year. Now these shootings may or may not be justified. Certainly the most recent one sounds like it is, but while many police shootings, if not most, do likely reach the legal level of justification, what about the moral level? What about, for lack of a better phrase, the “public relations” level?
I’m not suggesting we don’t let cops carry weapons; we absolutely should. Every police officer out in public should be allowed to carry pepper spray, a Taser and a police baton. And if any of you don’t think those count as formidable weapons, then may I suggest you remember things like the Rodney King beating, where a man was nearly beat to death, but wasn’t shot. In general, though, these are less-than-lethal weapons. They make it much harder for a police officer to kill someone, either by accident or intentionally.
I’m also not suggesting that cops should never be allowed access to firearms. There are clearly a very small number of very bad situations during which officers need to have access to guns. But those are very rare times, and when they need someone with a gun, cops should have to call in armed officers, which is much like what the situation is with armed cops in the United Kingdom.
Now, would having most cops not carrying guns most of the time put more police lives at risk? Absolutely. That’s a sad and unfortunate fact and there’s not really any getting around it. But what it might also do is make it easier for people to trust the police, or at least lower their fear of them. It would almost completely eliminate situations where officers shoot and kill an innocent person, because if they had to make extra effort to get a gun, you can be sure they’d be certain about its necessity.
Bottom line, this would, yes probably result in a few more police officers being shot each year and possibly dying. But it would also result in far, far fewer civilians, innocent and otherwise, dying at the hands of the police. Not constantly having the power to kill at the slightest provocation might also remind the police that they are public servants, and here to protect us. Not to kill us. Not to intimidate us. But to protect and, dare I say, serve. That would help generate more trust and respect for law enforcement in communities where it is lacking, and that’s no bad thing.