There are many problems in the profession of police officers, day-to-day issues, and issues on a larger scale. Most of these problems however, affect all officers that work each day. I’m going to be discussing a handful of problems they face in particular, these problems include: gun violence/gun control, the need for professionalism, fatigue, and job stress. I will define each problem, provide a historical overview as well as a scope of the problem, I will discuss why each problem matters, how they’re being dealt with, and the future in regards to the problems.
I will begin with the issue of gun violence/gun control which is currently a fairly heavy topic of discussion, especially in congress. I will be giving a rather in-depth overview because I believe that this is one of the biggest problems and it is one reason why being a police officer is the most dangerous job in America. On January 12, 1998 Deputy Kyle Wayne Dinkheller was at the end of his shift and getting ready to go off duty when he pulled a motorist over for speeding. This should have been a very routine traffic stop, and the motorist could have been on his way in no time, but instead it went in a very different direction. The motorist/perpetrator, Andrew Brannan – a Vietnam veteran decided to argue verbally and curse telling the deputy “shoot me! Shoot me!” The perpetrator headed away from the deputy while the deputy continued to give commands while calling for backup. The perpetrator reached across his pickup truck and picked up his rifle, the deputy then ordered him to put it down. The perpetrator fired shots and the deputy fired back, unfortunately the deputy missed through an entire clip on his service pistol and had to reload, the perpetrator chased the deputy around his car. The deputy can be heard screaming for his life on the dash cam footage, he manages to hit the perpetrator in his stomach but it would not be enough. The deputy was hit several times in exposed areas such as the stomach and arms, the suspect fired two more rounds after he was hit in the stomach. Both rounds struck Deputy Dinkheller in the head killing him. The suspect fled the scene and was arrested the next day, eventually he was sentenced to death as the jury found that the murder was carried out in a cruel and torturous manner. The video is the most chilling footage I’ve personally ever seen and is used all across the country in police academies for training purposes. This is just one example of how the gun problem affects law enforcement officers on a day-to-day basis. All it takes is one traffic stop and one moment for everything to go wrong.
Now, allow me to provide an extensive overview/background of the issues of gun control. I would say that gun violence has been around (obviously) since the time that guns were invented, thus it has always presented a problem as well as the need for a solution to the problem. It’s so evident in every history book that the gun has been a part of our American culture since before our country declared independence. The importance of guns was made even more clear with the second amendment of our constitution, however that right has since been heavily debated – especially in more recent times. Here of late we’ve witnessed many tragedies including Virginia Tech, Tucson (involving Representative Gabrielle Giffords), the Trayvin Martin shooting, Aurora Colorado, and Sandy Hook. So many tragedies caused by people using guns of some sort. Obviously there are laws against such violence, and there are certainly measures of “gun control” in place which brings me to some of the laws and legislation. The first legislation of gun control was in the State of New York they passed the Sullivan Act in 1911 which was essentially a concealed carry law that required a permit to carry or own a weapon small enough to be concealed. After a few high-profile crimes that involved fully automatic weapons The National Firearms Act (NFA) was passed in 1934 as the first national gun control law. The NFA imposed taxes on the manufacture and sale of certain firearms, and it was designed to make it difficult to gain access to “especially lethal” firearms; this is still in effect today. The Federal Firearms Act was passed in 1938 requiring sellers to maintain records and obtain a Federal Firearms License. Because of the series of politically motivated assassinations in the 1960’s (JFK, MLK Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy) President Johnson signed the Gun Control Act as a law. This very heavily regulated firearms in America adding many restrictions on gun sales, and required more detailed records by sellers. After the attempt to assassinate President Reagan which left his White House Press Secretary James Brady permanently disabled there was more anti-gun protests. Brady’s wife was very vocal in the matter and introduced the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act also known as the Brady Bill in 1987. President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill as law on November 30, 1993 and it imposed a mandatory 5 day waiting period on firearm purchases and required thorough background checks to be carried out by local law enforcement on anyone wanting to buy a weapon. The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the US Government exceeded its authority and that the background checks were unconstitutional under the 10th amendment which restricts the federal government from having authority over the states. Even though they made this ruling, other parts of the Brady Bill remained in effect. Then in 1994 President Clinton signed a second law, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which prohibited the sale of semiautomatic weapons with magazines that hold 10 rounds or more for civilian use. The bill was not renewed in 2004, after 10 years. In even more recent years we have more proposed legislation such as the Gun Show Background Check Act, and the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Criminals Act both of which ultimately went nowhere. a big factor in gun laws is the National Rifle Association (NRA), this group was formed in 1871 and has been dedicated to promoting the rights of gun owners for 140 years. In 1975 the NRA decided to create the Institution for Legislation Action (ILA) which was a group intending to increase the NRA’s influence with the government. The year they formed they found their first victory against a law that would label handgun ammunition as “hazardous substance” so that it would be banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I’d like to talk more specifically in regards to statistics including Chicago (gun free zone), and concealed carry zones/states. I will begin with the city of Chicago which is often brought up in gun control rhetoric. All you really have to do is type “Chicago gun control” into Google and you’ll find a plethora of results regarding the rising crime rates and rates of violence involving guns. The shocker is that this city has some of the nation’s strictest gun control laws, but because it’s more difficult for Chicagoans to legally own and carry weapons for self-defense, they are unable to effectively protect themselves in situations that police cannot. CNS News reports that there have been 441 shooting and 100 homicides in Chicago since January 1st 2013, the math is 3.8 shootings per day or about one shooting every 6.3 hours. In 2012, 2,670 people were shot in Chicago – up 20% from 2011 and the homicide rate was also up 21% from 2011 to 2012. [Gregory Gwyn-Williams, Jr., "Chicago Suffering One Shooting Every 6.3 Hours as 2013 Homicide Count Hits 100", cnsnews.com, April 26th, 2013].
In 1981 nineteen states did not allow citizens to carry concealed weapons – they were considered “no carry” states, D.C. also was a “no carry” zone. Just two states were in the “shall issue” category which allows gun owners who meet minimum qualifications to carry their weapons concealed. There were twenty-eight states at that time which “may issue” leaving them with the ultimate discretion to say yay or nay as to whether someone can carry their weapon concealed. Vermont was then the only state that did not require a permit to conceal carry a weapon. Since then it has actually changed drastically, now a total of four states don’t require a permit. Thirty five states now have “shall issue” laws, from twenty-eight down to just nine states with “may issue” laws, and only one state still prohibits the carrying of concealed weapons. Would you like to take a guess at which state? I’ll give you a hint, it’s home to Chicago. That’s right, Illinois is the only state with no carry laws in addition to the D.C. area as well. It is clear that concealed-carry laws have swept through the nation in the past twenty-two years pushing from just two “shall issue” states to thirty-five. It’s clear that the “right-to-carry” laws have loosened up incredibly over the past 30 years.
When it comes down to it, the only thing that can really be done with so many weapons available both legally and illegally is for police officers to continue their daily war against crime and be super careful and prepared to put up a fight to protect themselves and the citizens against the violence of guns.
My next topic of discussion is the need for professionalism in policing. This is actually a huge problem and it is one of the reasons the standards for hiring police officers have been raised. Professionalism is the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person. Police officers are to the community as ministers/preachers are to their congregation/parishioners, and are similar in some broad ways. Ministers are expected to righteous and as close to perfect as possible (in theory), and police officers are supposed to uphold the law in the same manner. The media and the public are very critical of police officers so it is ever so important for police officers to be calm, cool, and collective in any given situation. They should always be respectful whether it be a suspect, prisoner, citizen, or victim. Police officers should be outstanding in communicating and problem solving and should always act with integrity. Unfortunately things like brutality and corruptness play into professionalism, these are things that are obviously very unprofessional and this is where a lot of the problem with professionalism lies. The only ways to really deal with it are by a case to case basis, officer complaints, acts of unnecessary brutality, etc. All police departments have some form of a code of conduct for how their officers shall behave in given circumstances, if they aren’t followed by the officer there should be disciplinary actions taken.
My third topic of discussion is fatigue, this is a rather problematic issue in policing. It’s all fine and dandy if someone falls asleep in the office, in their cozy seat at a desk in front of a computer full of random information that has to do with their job, but when you fall asleep behind the wheel of a vehicle or behind the controls of an airplane, or things of this nature, there is a huge, huge problem. Officers have a higher risk of being injured or acting inappropriately on the job when they are overly tired.
Interestingly, the Boston Globe did an investigation of an agency and came to the realization that sixteen police officers had worked more than eighty hours in a week and one officer had worked one hundred and thirty hours! Just think about that for a moment, an officer worked one hundred and thirty hours in one week. If you do the math on that, the officer worked about 18.57 hours per day for seven days straight, he would only get 5.43 hours of sleep per night. Fatigue creates major safety problems which could potentially be fatal for police officers. A way to help prevent this problem is for administrators to make sure that officers aren’t working too much overtime. That is one simple solution, another would be to of course monitor the officers. There are simple solutions to the problem that just need to be taken care of.
Job stress for police officers is overwhelming, it causes a disproportional number of divorces, marital problems, and even higher suicide rates compared to the general public. Being on the job twenty-four hours a day causes stress and even emotional detachment from work and the needs of the public. Some other reasons for stress are poor training, fears of competence, safety, and success, exposure to brutality, job dissatisfaction, role conflict, lack of opportunity, substandard equipment, and inadequate pay. Clearly there are many things that can cause the stress of police officers, even that they may believe that the court system favors the rights of the criminals. Police work has been known to cause problems with both psychological and physical problems. Some officers experience burn out, and many even become cynical of their job and the people they encounter. Some departments are trying to fight job-related stress by training their officers to be able to cope with the effects of stress. Some departments even offer stress management as a part of an overall wellness program. These stress reduction programs can become a great way to help police officers focus on the positive aspects of policing.
Gregory Gwyn-Williams, Jr., “Chicago Suffering One Shooting Every 6.3 Hours as 2013 Homicide Count Hits 100″, cnsnews.com, April 26th, 2013
Larry J. Siegel, John L. Worrall, Essentials of Criminal Justice, 8th Edition, 2013, pages 127-131, Book.
Mantel, Barbara. “Gun Control.” CQ Researcher 8 Mar. 2013: 233-56. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.