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TIL In the US, people can be rejected from joining the police force if they are too intelligent.(r/todayilearned)
The problem is very complex, I think. Police are like the bag you use to pick up shit and keep your hand clean. They have a side which interacts with the ‘normal’ public and a side which just as much interacts with the criminal world. I don’t think you’d find many psychologists who would be surprised at people who live in this interface 8 hours a day find the behaviour on the shitty side to become normalised.
A criminologist for whom I do not have a reference is quoted as saying “When men first come into contact with crime, they abhor it. If they remain in contact with crime for a time, they become accustomed to it, and endure it. If they remain in contact with it long enough, they finally embrace it, and become influenced by it.”
We look at individual, micro actions of misbehaviour by Police and have trouble understanding them. They look like cases of ‘why would they do that?’ and the conclusion that most people reach is that the Police Officer is a bad person. The funny thing with human behaviour is that at the micro level, we make sense of things by consciously projecting ourselves into that position. We involve our own mind emotionally and personally in what we’re assessing. For any species wide assessment or large scale group behaviour, the notion of the individual unit as a free, sentient, thinking, living wildcard is the first thing to go out the window. There’s no humanity at the macro level. Once we ‘zoom out’ far enough, human behaviour is quite predictable and not really surprising and we behave just like any other animal. Look at the obesity problem in America. You put rats in a cage with too much food, they get fat. I’m sure human population growth and spread mimics many other species over evolutionary time periods, too.
So should we really be surprised that these people who we have living in this interface, institutionalised from other facets of society, develop behaviour patterns that have elements of each world they’re exposed to? It is a very institutionalised life, it’s more than a job and becomes a part of who you are. You’re never off duty, really. There is always a part of you which remains switched on and you know you’re responsible if anything happens. It’s very hard to relate your stresses to non-Police, too. I found it very hard to have relationships with women because they especially being my age (late teens/early 20s during this) were immensely virginal in the ways of the world compared to what I was having trouble processing from work.
The criminals you deal with hate you. The public, for the most part, hates you (or at least the ones you deal with who shape your personal knowledge of how the public feels towards you are often horrible). The media is AWAYS out to fuck you and the people you’re out there taking on all this shit for are the first ones to get out the pitchforks if you make even an honest mistake or error or judgement. But you know that your fellow Officers have your back and even the ones you don’t like, you have a bond with. Sometimes, within the department, people won’t get along (as I elaborated on a bit in my previous post), but when it’s ‘us and them’ versus the public, you’ve got your fellow Officer’s back first and foremost. Kind of like how people will bicker with someone from the town over about a sporting team, but gladly band together when it’s an interstate rivalry.
I’m in Australia, so it’s no where near as bad as it seems in America, by the way. But still here, I think all the ingredients are there. It looks like Police in America are being used by illegitimate interests and getting primed to become the authoritarian militia and when you look at it from a system wide point of view, it’s very easy to see how this slide could happen. Your Officers are essentially a captive population that can be gradually re-trained and purposed without them even realising it, or having real need to question what they’re doing. Their whole family is doing it, after all. Most of them are trapped in that line of work, too. Mortgage, families depending on them. I was lucky I had no debts or dependents and could spontaneously resign.
It’s easy to say ‘well why wouldn’t they just resign, or refuse to do that’, but it’s really not that simple. Unfortunately, to argue against that is a very difficult and complex problem that most people who just want to bitch about the Police won’t stick around to listen to.
There is a very good book (which I have to confess to not having finished) called The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert J Lifton. Though it says many other things, it explores the psychology behind how people change from being ‘normal’ to becoming able to commit horrible acts. Clearly I’m not comparing a decline in Police behaviour to this level of extreme, but it’s interesting to look at militarisation of Police in this light.
What’s a viable solution? Perhaps one place to start is to change how we view our Police. Yes, they still need to be accountable for their actions. But we should look at them as our peers who need our help and support to keep going out there and fighting the fights for us so we don’t have to. They’re good people, they’re your friends and they want to help you. But they are also just simply human at the end of the day and if you think you’d be immune to having your personality skewed and distorted by the things they experience every day, you may be in for a very rude shock. Don’t react with anger, react with empathy at what has happened to that formerly keen, idealistic person to make them behave less than admirably. You won’t have to scratch far below the surface to find some pretty dark and upsetting shit. Again, it doesn’t excuse bad behaviour, but we can’t be surprised when we throw someone into the septic tank and they come out smelling like shit.
Our efforts should really be concentrated on the laws and policies that are resulting in parts of our society being so fucked up. I think massive drug law reform and legalisation of pretty much everything would change the landscape so much for the better that hypothesising past that point would just be guesswork.