Few professions can provoke the full range of emotions, from unflinching respect and trust to belligerent distrust and anger, as law enforcement.
With over 900,000 law enforcement officers in the country, it would be foolish to assume that each individual police officer is an agent of unfailing virtue – incapable of making mistakes or succumbing to the negative human emotions that are responsible for making bad decisions in times of high stress.
However it also can’t be understated how complicated, potentially dangerous and unpredictable of a job it is to be on a police force in any part of the country. All it takes is one disturbed individual or a combination of external factors to turn a normal day into a serious, life-or-death situation – and this is the case every day that a man or woman suits up and hits the beat.
This is why the Warwick Police Department’s commitment to reaching into its community to help better educate the public about what goes into being a police officer is commendable and valuable to the city as a whole. The department launched its 30th Citizens’ Police Academy last week to its second largest class in its history – with the goal of bettering relationships between those in uniform and everyday residents.
The 12-week program meets once a week for two-hour classes to go over police protocols and training techniques and seeks to get to the heart of how police respond to activity, why they react the way they do and what their reasoning for their tactics are.
Too often in society there is a void between forces involving the citizenry at large. Many decisions, while most often made by elected officials, are made without much actual input from the public at all. The Warwick Police Department, by opening their doors to regular citizens, are trying to counter that by being as open about their procedures as they safely can be – which will only help to build a positive bridge between that gap along the thin blue line and the public.
The Warwick Police take community outreach seriously, and they have dedicated officers specifically assigned to be community liaisons for each section of the city. Daniel Maggiacomo leads the Warwick Citizens Police Academy, and speaks in plain language that is appreciable by any resident. He fully admits that some officers aren’t worthy of wearing the uniform, and accepts the fact that cops, like any other person, are fallible and capable of making mistakes.
In recent times, especially in reaction to incidents of use of force where people wind up severely injured or dead as a result of actions of the police, law enforcement officials are placed under the microscope and the public tends to gather to either side of an extreme argument (as social media so usually and faultily projects) – police are either unquestionable heroes, or they are demonized as sociopaths with a badge and a gun.
Voices like Maggiacomo’s are needed today, more than ever. Voices that understand that police are simply people who have chosen a unique, critically important and difficult career. Some are going to be bad at their job, or exercise improper amounts of force or generally be angry with those they interact with. Many more will simply try to do the best that they can, and will follow protocol and treat people with respect so long as they, too, are respected and not put in harm’s way.
In a way, by allowing people to learn more about police and their approach to enforcing the law, they are hopefully extending that olive branch to many more people than just those who choose to sit through the extensive course. In conversations with friends or relatives who may have had a bad experience with law enforcement, people who have taken the class may be able to widen their perspective, or at least share their positive experience.
The Warwick Police have now taken their outreach a step further, actively asking the citizenry for the first time in its history to fill out an online survey about how well (or not well) they have been performing their role as peacekeepers within the city. Ideally, there will be a mix of praise where it is warranted and complaints where they are appropriate. As with the citizens’ academy, the ultimate goal should be a steady improvement towards better ideals.
No matter your stance on law enforcement, this citizens-first approach to conducting business should be the approach utilized by every governmental group responsible in any way for forces outside the control of its populace.