We expect a lot of our police.
They expect a lot of themselves, too.
We might think our police don’t have a lot to do, most of the time, because we don’t have that much crime.
They are involved if there’s a big drug bust. And they have to be there is there’s a bad accident. We want them to be available in case there’s a violent altercation.
Otherwise, many of us picture the local police department members riding around on patrol, or sitting in the office at the police station waiting for a call.
That would square with what the older members of the community remember about the need for local police protection over the years.
We remember there being one police officer, who was referred to as “The Chief.” Let’s see, was one Chief Causer? “Bozo”? Was one Chief Hatch?
The Chief used to walk around in the business section. He checked to see if doors to stores and businesses had been locked, and notified owners if he found any that weren’t. I don’t remember how he was reached if someone wanted to call him.
In later years we would see police toting radios and realize they could be summoned while out and about. There were silent alarm arrangements that would ring or flash at the police station, when it was out on West Mill. Break into the bank or a pharmacy or other protected place, and the police would know right away.
Police would look in at the bars, routinely. They watched for speeders and people who ran red lights and stop signs. Officer Knell pulled over speeders on North Main, warning some and ticketing some, and it did seem to encourage motorists to honor our posted limits, or at least come closer.
Domestic violence hasn’t been “against the law” all that long. But now that it is, a good number of the calls to local police are about situations that used to be categorized as “family matters,” and thus not police matters.
Now it is understood far better that assault is assault. Persons who are part of the same household are no more entitled to hit or shove or threaten or harm each other than are who persons who don’t live together. “Friends” who argue with, threaten or assault each other are no more entitled to do so than are strangers.
So local police are called in connection with what used to be thought of as “squabbles.” Domestic violence is a police matter. Millions of former victims of domestic disputes can testify to the importance of enforcing the laws relating to those ugly, scary, often injurious and sometimes fatal crimes. A look at the local police log tells us that those incidents are all too frequent in our peaceful, law-abiding community.
The downside of the increased recognition of domestic disputes having the potential for criminal charges is that there seems to be an increasing perception of family disagreements in general as being police matters.
“My kid won’t behave!” says a parent. Or the complaint might be “My daughter is getting unwanted calls on her cell!” or “My ex keeps calling me and I told him to quit!” and “She didn’t bring our son back after ‘visitation’!”
Local police try to deal with these problems, patiently, respectfully. Many of those problems have solutions, or at least potential sources of help, outside the law enforcement arena. Police speak to complainants, visit the home, encourage compliance with court orders or agreements concerning custody, urge fighting domestic partners or former couples to go to neutral corners (part company at least for the time being). They make referrals, recommend calling Children and Youth, point out that lawyers can be of help or courts are supposed to resolve such matters.
So beyond their lawful power and duty to enforce standing court orders (and yes, police can and should do so), local police are often called upon to act as if there were court orders when there aren’t any, or make up the law on the spot, because people are disagreeing.
The easiest thing to do would be to say, “That’s not a police matter,” and let it go at that. But I notice that our police go the extra mile of making referrals; and they also apply the “influence” they have as officers of the law, to “encourage” people to use common sense and decency, and to seek “civil” avenues of dispute resolution, from counseling to sobering up to just agreeing to disagree without being criminally disagreeable.
“Bozo” and other local police didn’t have a curfew to enforce, back in the day (or the night, I should say). Short of murder and mayhem, they could not charge the people who were involved in “domestics.” Before tough child abuse laws were passed, severe and even injurious “discipline” was not a police matter, but we now know some of it was child abuse and we now know it can be treated as a crime.
Law enforcement has expanded and requires more time now, just as the need for jail capacity has expanded because there are more arrests and more convictions.
Do people drink and fight and fuss and carry on and run their mouths and trash talk more than they used to? I’m thinking, probably not.
But there are more ways to communicate and so more ways to fight and bad-mouth and threaten than there used to be. More behaviors are classed as crimes. We now have ordinances about curfew and dog behavior and sidewalk shoveling; and we want the police to enforce all the real laws and some that are imaginary.