July 23, 2009 7:30 pm

From TPM Reader JS

You done well running reader NL’s essay on police abuse of their power. But you and NL framed it poorly: “They put themselves in harm’s way for us everyday.”

Police work is not that dangerous compared to, say, driving a cab. Firefighters have a far more physically dangerous job. However, cops have a heroic job: much harder in so many ways than firefighting. Firefighters are almost never in a morally ambiguous zone and almost always are in the business of making people feel good. Cops handle humans at their worst.

This distinction matters. When cops stress the (low) physical danger of their job, they’re setting themselves up to be military. That’s no good for the country. Large cities probably need a SWAT team, but that is not the model for most police work. Collateral damage is simply not acceptable for police. It also leads to police cowardice. A lot of civilian damage is justified by the military concept: “force protection.” Highly-armed and highly-trained cops use a lot more violence against citizens than a court would deem acceptable if one citizen used it against another.

Cops do not stress the (high) psychological danger of their job, because that makes them social workers with guns, able to handle difficult people with aplomb and an absolute minimum of violence, either threatened or applied. And that’s what they should be.

So don’t play into fascist stereotypes of manly danger. Police work is hard, dirty, and noble. But it is not particularly dangerous. And it shouldn’t be viewed that way.

I thought the ‘fascist stereotypes’ line was a bit much. Other than that though I thought this was one of most insightful emails I’ve gotten in a long time.

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