A new memorial was recently dedicated in Chicago to the memory of police who have committed suicide. I was shocked to learn that the suicide rate for the Chicago Police Department is 60% higher than any other police department in the country.
It is obvious that police struggle. Simply doing their job is fraught with danger and requires measured and often in-the-moment response. The pressure placed on doing this job is difficult for some, and probably unbearable for others. Each arrest may be as traumatic for the police as it is for the offender. And, of course, there’s the added issue of only taking a few brutal and racist cops to poison the reputation of those who are dedicated to serving the public.
My experience with police is much different than most. When I was a young girl living in Melrose Park, the police force was often the community service agency. They were the group everyone in the community sought out for help — whatever help was needed. One of the officers was a friend of my parents, and I remember his name: Dominic Cimino (amazing I recall his name from 90 years ago!).
At Christmas time, the police entertained the children of the community at an annual holiday party at Eagle’s Hall on Broadway in our downtown. All the children received a police coloring book and a treasured junior police badge.
I realize this perspective of police is far different from how we view police and their role today. How difficult it must be to “protect and serve” in today’s much more violent society. A couple of ideas I’ve heard may offer ways to make policing less traumatic and all of us safer in the process. For example, Worcester, Massachusetts is experimenting with compulsory body cameras, worn by all police and activated at all times. This might address the rash of accusations of police abusing their authority during arrests, traffic stops, and investigations. The purpose of the body cam is to better determine true allegations from false ones, thereby proving or disproving wrong-doing.
Previous to this compulsory-use pilot project, many departments used body cameras, but often only sporadically and not by all officers. There are differences of opinion and support for this plan. Some officers are against this plan for a variety of reasons and, of course, those who are abusive, racist, violent, or greedy enough to take bribes, are against it. This makes sense to me, and I hope compulsory use of body cams becomes the standard.
A strategy to help police with another problem, that of surging numbers of legal and illegal guns on the street, is a weapon buy-back program. Just last week in Evanston, the police department sponsored a program at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. They bought back weapons, no questions asked. They purchased guns for $100 each, and pellet guns for $25 each. In the three hours allotted for firearms buy-backs, they netted 44 guns and 29 pellet guns. Having the church as host for the buy-back gun event was beneficial for the program’s success, rather than holding it at a police station. This type of program has been run in a number of communities, including the city of Chicago.
The cost of covering payouts for the guns turned in is the main objection to the program. The question is whether the expenditure is worth getting some guns off of the street. In my opinion, every gun eliminated from use is worth every penny spent. Unfortunately unlawful gun use and illegal firearm possession soared during the Trump era. Further, the strong gun lobby and the NRA lessens the impact of gun laws and safety protocols that we have in place.
These suggestions are not new ideas, but I believe any measure that can help police do their jobs and keep all of us safer is worthwhile and should be implemented. Further, my hope is these and other measures help police earn more respect and reduce their suicide rates, making life on the streets safer for all.
I’m not naive to think police will resume hosting children’s holiday parties and hand out coloring books and junior badges as they did in my childhood. However, with intention and effort we need to identify and implement ways of calming our chaotic society.