Why one cop says there is no war on cops
Louis Hayes believes that much of the mindset that there is a war on cops is rooted in police training that focuses heavily on worst-case scenarios
If one were to survey American police officers with the question, “Is there a war on cops?” the overwhelming majority would probably answer in the affirmative. In fact, at the time of this writing, in the current PoliceOne Homepage poll, a full 93 percent believe this to be the case (as do I with that opinion). Indeed, the war on cops is the subject of many articles on PoliceOne and is even the title of an excellent book by Heather Mac Donald.
One notable dissenter to this prevailing opinion is Louis Hayes, a 19-year police officer in the Chicago area who authored a compelling article contradicting the thesis that officers are under attack more today than in years past. Hayes wrote, “There are valid concerns about police safety. But the facts show that there is no national war on cops.” He added that “In fact, police officers are safer today than they have ever been... Police officer deaths overall have been declining since the mid-1970s.”
After reading his piece, I found myself scratching my head, wondering, “How on Earth can a cop in this day and age come to this conclusion?” After all, just this week there was a report that attacks on police officers in New York City are up 23 percent over last year. Through a mutual friend I was able to connect with Hayes and find out. The following is a precis of that conversation.
The nature of war
“The war is really an emotional thing. It’s about the perception as to whether or not there’s a battle and to say that there’s a heightened war on cops is to say that there are more attacks, it’s more violent, it’s more deadly, and the statistics that I’m looking at show the opposite — that attacks are down,” said Hayes.
I contend that in order to understand the fight officers now face on the street, one must first understand the nature of war. War certainly has its physical elements, but a couple of other important tactics to consider are psychological operations (PSYOPS) and propaganda. And there is widespread belief that police are under attack by both tactics.
And Hayes does believe that the noise level about attacks on officers is up. “There’s definitely more attention given to the divisiveness between citizens and police — more specifically, protesters and police — but the statistics of those attacks are relatively isolated.”
Hayes also concedes that there is a political war against policing. “There’s definitely a lot more platforms that have been opened up to those that are politically against the enforcement of laws and aggressive or proactive policing,” Hayes said. “But I don’t believe it to be correlated with physical attacks on police.”
However, it’s undeniable that the perceived physical war and the obvious ongoing political war are at least simultaneous, if not directly coordinated. The level of anti-police rhetoric in the mainstream national media and on social media clearly was ratcheted up following Ferguson and has not abated since. The political landscape is just different today than it was in years past.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, law enforcement was largely lauded by the public, following nearly two decades of violence against cops from groups like the Weather Underground, the Black Panther Party, and others. Even into the first decade of the 21st Century, the criticism of law enforcement seemed to be more civil, more measured. Measured, well-reasoned discourse seems to have all but vanished.
This appears to be why Hayes wrote his piece: to kick-start a rational dialog about policing in America today, with an eye turned inward at the profession itself.
Looking in the proverbial mirror
“Being a police officer, I am pro-police and an advocate for police officer safety, but I feel that the message is inappropriate right now inside of law enforcement. We’re telling ourselves a message that’s popular, instead of one that’s more rooted in the facts and data.”
Hayes compares this to when a friend comes to you and tells you he’s getting a divorce. The easy thing to say is, “I can’t believe she did that to you.” The harder but more productive thing might be to say, “You were a jerk in your marriage. Maybe you have some responsibility in this.”
“We tell this really comforting tale that we’re the victims. We’re the cops and we’re becoming victimized in this. It’s a really popular tale, and it’s easy to tell that. But anytime someone stands up and says, ‘Wait a second. There’s a little bit of responsibility to take in this. We can grow from this.’ That’s not welcomed very well. It’s just easier to tell that friend what he wants to hear.”
Hayes believes that much of the mindset that there is a war on cops is rooted in police training that focuses heavily on worst-case scenarios. He feels that greater focus should be placed on decision making and de-escalation techniques.
“We’re almost ignoring the data, the statistics and the probabilities. We’re just inundating out young people in police academies, who are very impressionable, with this worst-case mentality in a way that’s unhealthy. Obviously you have to have some element of that, but it’s got to be balanced in a way that says it’s okay to let old ladies keep their hands in their pockets when it’s cold outside.”
Hayes contends that the way in which academy training is now being conducted has created a culture of absolutes filled with ‘nevers’ and ‘shalls.’
“We’re basically keeping our cops from being able to think through these problems and understand the context. In doing so, we’re creating scared cops that think every old lady is going to attack them, and every young kid is going to have a gun in his pants and the ninjas are going to pop out of the ceiling on building searches and there’s a suspect in the trunk of every car that you stop. It’s almost become to the point where it never stops — to the point where it’s paralyzing our people from making good decisions.”
What do you think?
I have always said, “While I have a mind I reserve my right to change it.” Hayes certainly has an interesting perspective on the subject, and I personally disagree with a considerable portion of it. I have not changed my thinking that there is an undeclared war on American law enforcement. However, I commend him for presenting the counterpoint to what seems from anecdotal evidence to be the opinion of just about every cop with whom I’ve had a conversation on the topic.
Where I do agree with Lou is that there is room for more training, especially of young officers, in decision-making skills. And I’m not just talking about increased work in the use-of-force simulator. Problem solving skills gleaned from studying things like philosophy and Socratic debate are enormously valuable on the streets. That’s probably a topic for another day.
What do you think? Sound off (respectfully) in the comments section.