Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Town I Live In: Community Police

“In the early days, all the people in the little town knew each other. Sometimes the policeman would take a dozen eggs to some lady who lived too far out of town to get to the store. Or once in a while the policeman delivered medicine from the drug store to a sick person who lived out in the country.”

--Ostrich Eggs for Breakfast (a history of Fullerton)

In light of recent events in Fullerton, a lot of people are looking very closely at the police department. What is the appropriate role of police in this, or any, community? As someone who has lived downtown for over seven years, I know that popular attitudes toward the police are not positive. They are often seen as bullies, disconnected from the people they serve. They arrive at a crime scene in a swarm of cars, dole out swift justice, and drive off. There is an “us vs. them” mentality with the general public and the police.

But does it need to be this way? In the old days of Fullerton, as the above quote suggests, the police man was a respected part of the community. He was a community servant. He knew the people he served, and his duties extended beyond arresting people. He helped people, and was consequently well-loved. He was presumably a connected part of the town, walking the streets, getting to know people. He lived in the town.

Perhaps, as the Fullerton police department tries to win the respect back from the citizens they serve (the citizens who, after all, pay their salaries)—they would do well to look into the past, to remember the days when police were deeply connected their communites, and perhaps endeavor to revive some of that “servant” mentality. A famous guy once said, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.”


For lots of people, this slogan, "To protect and to Serve" has taken on an ironic absurdity. Maybe some day, after a lot of change and healing, this slogan can have meaning again.

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