The public and the police

At first glance, the news that there was a massive turnout for the funeral of the four slain Oakland police would appear to conclusively contradict my contention earlier this week that public sympathy for the police has greatly decreased over the years:

21,000 turn out to mourn slain officers
Mourners from across the country packed Oracle Arena to the rafters Friday, as the city and nation said a heavy-hearted goodbye to four Oakland police officers fatally shot in the line of duty March 21.

However, the media narrative is a little misleading, as the giant crowd apparently consisted of “at least 10,000 police officers”, including every employee of the Oakland Police Department. In other words, this appears to have been more of a massive gathering of the badge clan paying tribute to its fallen warriors rather than the huge outpouring of public support that the reporter clearly implies it to be with that reference to “the city and nation”.

Dianne Feinstein’s tribute to the four officers particularly struck me as worthy of notice. “They knew they were outnumbered, outgunned and, all too often, underappreciated.”

So, here’s my question. If the police know they are outnumbered and outgunned, then how come most of them that I’ve encountered in their professional capacity insist on behaving as if they’ve got the upper hand and you’re fortunate if they elect not to give you a hard time? (I refer to professional capacity because I have some friendly acquaintances who are police officers and I’ve never seen any of them behave like that in their private lives.) The point is, there is a direct connection between the public’s lack of appreciation for the police and the behavior of the police in dealing with the public. Also, shooting unarmed people in their homes in the middle of the night doesn’t exactly help.

The police can’t have it both ways. They can’t reasonably expect to play high-handed law enforcement master one day, and outnumbered, outgunned hero persevering against all the odds the next. Perhaps the public needs to remember that police are people too, but then, it’s hard to do that when the human side is effectively hidden behind a badge, a gun, and an attitude. And on the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt the police to remember that they don’t create a law-abiding society, but that a law-abiding society that makes their job possible.