Flexible law enforcement serves better

By Matthew Peckham, Opinions Editor

The Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) will soon be better equipped to serve its community. Narcan, an opioid overdose medication, is to be found on each SPPD officer by December’s end, according to the “Pioneer Press.” This initiative has the potential to save lives that would be lost as responding officers wait for medication to arrive with EMS or firefighters. Medical emergencies are not likely to be simulated in the standard game of cops and robbers. However, police of metro areas, such as the Twin Cities, are expected to serve hundreds of thousands of unique people and situations. For a department to be effective, it must be multifaceted.

Flexibility should be the mantra of urban law enforcement. It is as inappropriate for a police officer to approach a robbery, a loitering homeless person, a suicidal person and a domestic dispute in the same manner as it would be for single professor to teach every subject and class at a university. People’s strengths vary and suit only particular situations.

Police departments already partially acknowledge this by designating a water patrol, a park patrol, traffic enforcement, reserves and traffic directors. The SPPD is embracing the fact that they can better serve an overdosing person with Narcan than with a billy club. Other departments, such as Minneapolis which is considering equipping officers with the drug, should follow and adapt this example. Many 911 calls would be better served by a psychologist than a police officer.

Minneapolis also needs crimes to be solved more than it needs patrols to stumble upon them. Per NPR, only 55%, 52% and 50% of Minneapolis’ aggravated assaults and only 63%, 72% and 47% of Minneapolis’ murders and manslaughters were solved in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. Paying officers to bust drug users is not the way to solve these cases. So, for the department to protect residents, it must prove that murderer and assailants will be discovered by adapting to the city’s need for conclusive detective work. Although searching for clues may make for a boring game of cops and robbers, it too, along with medical responses, is a role of law enforcement.

As every type of police encounter requires the right officer with the right tools, every community’s needs must be reassessed and adapted to by law enforcement agencies.

Police departments metro and statewide are attempting to soften their images for their communities. CBS reports that Duluth police officers that donate to charity may wear beards in November and December despite a century of facial hair restriction that limits officers to mustaches.

The Minneapolis Police Department and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department hold summer barbeques in public parks to make friendly appearances. However, hotdogs, scruff and money can only go so far. To earn their communities’ trust, departments must appropriately serve their diverse callings.

Communities deserve police departments that imagine new ways to help them rather than catch them. Departments should mimic the Narcan policy, staff psychologists, focus on detective work and pioneer other service methods.

This article first appeared in the Friday, December 8, 2017, Edition of The Echo.