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A letter to the American public: Where have the police gone?

The discourse surrounding the crisis in police staffing has omitted an unsettling emergent pattern: the steady erosion of democratic protection through the privatization of safety

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In an increasingly uncertain world, the desire for personal safety is something that unites people everywhere. Whether abroad or closer to home, societies face a wide array of challenges as they strive for security.

In the United States, the police force is taxpayer funded, designed to provide safety, regardless of one’s financial status. However, it is important to note that becoming a police officer is a choice, not a requirement. There is no draft – no mandatory selective service. Those who join the police do so voluntarily, often motivated by a genuine, although increasing uncommon, desire to serve.

In the wake of the societal shift since 2020, major city police departments have seen an exodus of officers with very few applicants to fill the gaping holes. In addition, the long-term training required to produce a single capable officer, over a year, stands in stark contrast to the short span it takes for one to resign, two weeks.

The creation of “safety deserts”

This lack of current and future police personnel leads to multiple public safety issues, including increased call response times and upticks in violent crime. Yet, the discourse surrounding this crisis in police staffing has glaringly omitted an unsettling emergent pattern: the steady erosion of democratic protection through the privatization of safety.

As crime rates escalate in urban hubs like Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia the affluent are increasingly turning to private security for their safety needs, enjoying a level of protection and responsiveness in sharp contrast from what is available to those who rely solely on publicly provided services. This divide manifests in what can only be termed “safety deserts,” where economically disadvantaged communities find themselves disproportionately exposed to the perils of rising crime, while the upper middle class and wealthy remain insulated behind their gates and guards.

The assumption that public safety is an American right – unalienable and guaranteed – fails to account for the inherent fragility of a system dependent on voluntary service. Policing can fail. As people continue to leave the profession and the new generation turns its nose up at the industry, eventually there may be no one left to do the job. However, policing’s reimaged replacement will be at the detriment of those who cannot afford private policing. It is evident that affluence, be it domestic or international, brings with it the resources to ensure personal safety, while those less fortunate are left exposed.

Society needs effective safety to function

The United States needs democratic police officers. These professional men and women are called upon daily to hold the country together and provide some form of social relief, while many Americans leave broken systems and hurting people in the shadows, out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Those disenchanted with the current state of policing must recognize that any society, to function harmoniously, requires some form of effective safety. Absent a viable alternative to the policing system, critics should contemplate the role they play in exacerbating societal divides when they discourage the new generation from entering law enforcement. The ramifications of such a stance go beyond the immediate and into the fabric of a society increasingly fractured along lines of class.

If we, as a nation, do not do something now to encourage individuals to enter public policing, the privilege of this service, to which we have all grown accustom, will go to those that are willing and able to pay.

Officer Terry Cherry has been with the Charleston Police Department for 8½ years and currently serves as the agency’s recruiter. In her role as recruiter, she developed a five-year recruitment strategic plan in compliance with the department’s racial bias audit and developed quantitative measures to track the plan’s success.

Officer Cherry has applied evidence-based policing to drive changes in recruitment processes, policies and marketing efforts. She was recently published in the July 2020 Great Ideas edition of IACP’s Police Chief magazine and was selected as a 2020 National Institute of Justice LEADS Scholar. Officer Cherry holds a BA from UCLA and an MBA in global business with an emphasis on international finance and economics from Pepperdine University.