“The police are not on your side.”

As the son of an attorney, I heard my father say this more times than I can count. He repeated it to me over and over, not in an attempt to indoctrinate me, but because he wanted to protect me. Throughout his career he had seen far too many people sent to prison, not for genuine wrongdoing, but because the police were simply out for blood.

Whether they’re filling quotas, following orders from the chief or just having a bad day, police are too often more interested in making arrests and handing out tickets than improving public safety. Being from a wealthy, white suburb, I experienced plenty of this first hand. Police had little to occupy themselves and developed an intense scrutiny for underage drinking while profiling teenagers as dangerous troublemakers. Luckily for my friends and me, getting a citation for speeding or having a party carried minor consequences, if any. In urban areas with more crime and less money for police, however, young black men along with other minorities often profiled as criminals have their lives turned upside down by the police every day, while violent crime continues to cripple neighborhoods.

To be clear, this isn’t a personal indictment of every single police officer in the United States. The vast majority of the boys and girls in blue are hard-working people who want to uphold the law. Bad policies — policies that direct police to ignore the Constitution and focus on numbers rather than on people — are making officers look and act like villains instead of heroes.

Take New York City, for example. As a response to relentless, violent crime, police began using the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy while cracking down on even the most minor of offenses, such as jaywalking and drug use — known as the now-debunked broken-window theory. Yes, crime rates have dropped significantly in New York City since the 1990s, with the New York City Police Department trying to claim as much credit as possible for this, but economists, sociologists and attorneys aren’t convinced by the department’s reasoning.

Crime rates were already falling before the development of these programs, and multiple studies have shown “stop-and-frisk” and broken-window policies aren’t the true cause of falling crime rates — some even suggest “stop-and-frisk” increases crime.

Along with questionable impacts on crime statistics, these policies hurt communities in ways that cannot be quantified. Residents of largely minority, high-crime neighborhoods don’t see the police as protectors or friends, but rather as enemies. Many crimes end up going unreported, as residents often fear the police too much to call them. When talking with Detroiters at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on the east side of the city, police were painted as symbols of fear, intimidation and extortion.

Some stories are repeated over and over again: Police stop you on the street or in your car for no reason, perform a search, then give a bogus ticket. Some stories are much worse, from an officer forcing his way into a car without probable cause, to police consistently robbing residents and threatening arrest if they report them.

Detroit is the epitome of a failed city in many aspects, but none may be worse than its dismal public-safety record. A lack of police funding is a huge problem, but showering cash on a poorly run, corrupt institution with little respect for the law may not be the best course of action. Money would help a bit, but a change in attitude needs to occur.

As a recent article in The New York Times article describes, Los Angeles has decided to take a new path in public safety. In the high-crime neighborhood of Watts, community leaders and police have started an active partnership to stop gang violence. By collaborating with residents, the police have been able to build trust and gather information on crime more effectively than ever before. The partnership hasn’t only helped the community’s confidence in police, but it has legitimately improved the quality of public safety. Police are no longer enemies or outsiders — they’re members of the same group, working toward a common goal. Stopping crime should certainly be the general aim of police, but it can’t come at the cost of an entire community’s civil liberties or trust in their officers.

By stressing fairness over simple crime fighting, the Los Angeles Police Department has been able to develop collaborative strategies for reducing gang-related violence. As the city of Detroit has begun to consider implementing “stop-and-frisk” as a policy, residents need to not only voice their opposition, but also offer alternatives. Community policing and cooperation with neighborhoods is a great start, but both parties have to come to the bargaining table.

That is, so long as the police agree not to search anyone before they sit down.

James Brennan can be reached at jmbthree@umich.edu.

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