Police vs. the public : Does it have to be that way?

Andy Frakes

Just seeing a police officer is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most of us. Getting pulled over on the road or hearing that distinct style of pounding on the door can send a grown man into a conniption. Cops are scary, even in a town the size of Marquette, and I’ll be the first to admit I wish I could drive to freaking Walgreen’s without seeing five squad cars.

Andy Frakes

This nervousness and anxiety around law enforcement serves as a deterrent. When the consequences of committing a crime are more severe than the crime itself may be rewarding, would-be criminals are deterred from committing that crime. This is why speeding on the highway is curtailed; arriving at a destination 20 minutes sooner is nearly never worth a potential citation and $115 fine.

The concept is understood, and between personal morals and legal constraints we manage to keep our society mostly together.

So when we obey the law for the most part, keep our noses clean, go to work or school and recycle and buy new t-shirts like good little citizens, why do we feel our stomachs drop whenever a cop enters the store where we’re doing our t-shirt shopping?

Moments in history such as the shooting of Michael Brown last August captivate the nation and leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. Furthermore, the acquittals of guilty parties in such cases are a link in the chains that bind the population to a mistrust of authority, particularly police officers.

We civilians are deterred from committing crimes (usually) and police officers seem to face no such deterrent in the most publicized instances. Disgrace and dislocation, perhaps, but those are small potatoes compared to an innocent person losing his or her life.

The juries in the recent prominent cases seemed to have been persuaded. None of the officers faced the prosecution that I so desperately hoped they would. These instances, and dozens of others, cause us to lean even farther away from the long arm of the law.

According to information compiled by the PEW Research Center, as of August 2014, police mistrust among people of color was 46 percent. That’s nearly half. Of the same surveyed population, only 17 percent stated they felt a strong sense of trust toward officers of the law. White people, on the same survey, are recorded at 35 percent putting trust in their police officers and only 12 percent claiming very little trust at all.

The racial divide is evident and is likely related to the events which unfolded in Ferguson in that same time period; people saw constant coverage of a black kid shot by a white officer, and there was a lack of balance there, if any was to be had. This negative undercurrent due to the media and the social climate influences how we feel toward law enforcement.

However, a side of this issue that we forget is what it’s like to need the police around. We like to stand around and point fingers at police officers overstepping their bounds and paint them with broad strokes; one only needs to call the police for help one time to see that broad strokes aren’t fair.

While writing this article I had the opportunity to speak to Patrol Captain Blake Rieboldt of the Marquette City Police Department, who has been in law enforcement for 21 years. He reminded me of an important fact: there are bad apples in every profession. Bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad auto mechanics. The officers involved in the recent scandals, such as that in Ferguson, are just examples of this truth.

“Before I was an officer,” Rieboldt said, “I was a college student at Western Michigan University. I know both perspectives, and I get why we’re made out to be the bad guys, but it’s just not a full representation of what we do.”

He went on to say that very few people get to see police officers out of uniform; officers are human beings with families, mortgages, and so on, and all they want is a safer community.

This conversation was fresh air to me, because as Officer Rieboldt and I both agreed, there is a skewed perspective when the knowledge people have about police is what they see in news coverage of riots and so on.

Perhaps it’s maturity, or perhaps I really have been given some new perspective on the issue, but I no longer want to think of police officers as “out to get me.”

I am not a criminal. I have nothing to hide. I want to live in a community that’s safe and orderly. I want, as hopefully many do, to pull up at an intersection next to a police officer and give an easy smile and wave—because they’re here for us.