More than 50 years ago, the Los Angeles Police Department held a contest to come up with a motto for the academy. The winning entry, “To Protect and Serve,” was adopted by the academy and eventually by the department as a whole. But what does it mean?
Taking things a bit more philosophically than most, I actually spent a great deal of time thinking about that phrase. I knew that as police officers we are rarely at the right place and at the right time to prevent or stop an attack on a citizen. Normally, we show up after the victimization had taken place.
I also knew that the courts have ruled time after time that no citizen is entitled to police protection, rather law enforcement exists for the general public good. In other words, as a citizen you are on your own.
My understanding of “To Protect and Serve” was that it was the job of the police officer to protect and serve the public by finding criminals and putting them in jail where they could not prey upon the innocent. It was our job to seek out the violent predators, do battle with them if necessary and present them to a court of law.
Seems pretty simple, but I’ve discovered that it is not enough.
An Imperfect System
Unfortunately, even though we have the best criminal justice system in the world, it is still imperfect. Fundamentally, the police and courts are reactive, meaning that when I bring a murderer to court, the damage has already been done. A citizen is dead, and his or her loved ones can only hope for the “justice” of a prison sentence.
That is where I discovered most law enforcement agencies have taken a wrong turn. Most departments try to use statistics and computer models to predict where future crime will occur, and deploy more officers to those areas to suppress crime. Many times these efforts are successful, but only for a temporary time. Criminals migrate to other areas, and the department plays catch up.
If law enforcement administrators are truly interested in protecting the public, the departments must teach the community how to protect themselves. When a crime happens, the criminal and the victim are the only two guaranteed to be on scene. The victim needs to have the tools and skills to defend themselves.
This may seem a bit radical to some people, but what would happen if the local police department offered free or low cost concealed carry training classes to the public? What would happen if criminals saw the local sheriff teaching people how to properly use an AR-15 in close range encounters?
I suspect I have a good idea of what would happen. Criminals would go elsewhere. Maybe the next town. Maybe the next state. Maybe just into a pine box.
I used to work for the police department in the city of Kennesaw, Ga. Most people know Kennesaw for “The Gun Law.” Back in 1982, the city passed an ordinance that required all heads of household to own a firearm and ammunition for that firearm. Predictably, the ordinance got a lot of press coverage. Also predictably, crime rates plummeted.
Kennesaw is part of the metro-Atlanta region, an area unfortunately known for crime. Yet, Kennesaw consistently has one of the lowest crime rates in the entire states.
On more than one occasion, officers would arrest criminals who would spontaneously say “I was always warned to stay out of the ‘Saw.” Go figure.
Citizens Police Academy
Many departments offer a Citizens Police Academy, which allows members of the public to come to a series of informational seminars showing them what the job of police officer or deputy sheriff entails. Typically, citizens get to tour the facilities, talk with officers from specialized units, see K9 demonstrations and ride along with a patrol officer for a shift.
What if a department was to use that model and teach self protection instead? A typical CPA may run for two hours one evening for eight weeks. I suggest we can run a similar program focused solely on self protection.
Topics would cover the basics like state law, awareness, first aid, hardening your home, pepper spray, basic unarmed defense and basic handgun skills. The idea would not be to teach someone everything they needed, but to provide a basic foundation from which the citizens can seek out additional training. Assuming the classes were successful, more advanced classes on shooting could be added at the department.
The idea is to serve the public by teaching them the basic skills they need to protect themselves. The bonus benefit would be a greater degree of positive interaction between the officers and citizens, which would help build a greater trust between the two.
I imagine the press coverage of such training would cause a measurable drop in crime without a single citizen displaying a firearm or any officer redeployment.
Enabling citizens to defend themselves would appear to be the ultimate way we can protect and serve.