Law Enforcement Officers or Peace Officers?
In a year where discord between police officers and communities has tragically escalated, I want to pause and reflect on the term “law enforcement." I don’t want to use this term anymore and here’s why: While enforcement of the law is certainly part of a police officer’s job, it’s off-brand to the greater mission of police officers. Police are community members and protectors of public safety. Many municipalities may even see revenue production as a primary function of their police force. Facts support the idea that this mindset leads to a “broken tail light” type of enforcement, which is primarily about creation of revenue through fees and fines, unfairly punishing the poor and disadvantaged.
To reinforce this idea, I refer to a quote taken from an excellent article from The Atlantic entitled “How Much Can Better Training Do to Improve Policing?” In it, former Police Chief Donald Grady II said, “We’ve gotten distracted over the years, and if you talk to most police officers today, and ask them, ‘What do you do for a living?’ they will tell you, ‘I am a law-enforcement officer.’ That’s a mischaracterization of what they were hired for.”
The state of Illinois, among others, calls their public safety officers Peace Officers. Yet the media and sometimes even the police force itself, uses the term law-enforcement officer. In addition to enforcing laws, our Peace Officers also intervene for families who can’t quite figure out how to live peaceably with each other. They help business owners secure their property more effectively. They provide resources and services to individuals on the streets in need of shelter or food. And on a good day, they may even facilitate forgiveness rather than retaliation. As Chief Grady says, “Policing is community building.”
While this may be an argument over syntax, in troubled times, syntax and philosophy matter. In fact, it often becomes the game changer in how we communicate and create a more positive environment for our communities. Let’s push toward elevating the human experience by focusing on the peace, healing and wellness in our communities and for the humans who wear the uniform. Maybe then, a peace-making, inclusive attitude will permeate all decisions and communications that support it.