The Sept. 7 editorial “Beyond Ferguson” did not acknowledge the workings of the broader justice system and the realities inherent in police culture. I was a police officer, so I know that the easiest strategy is to sound and act tough on crime and criminals. The focus is on reactive tactics, establishing guilt or innocence, punishment or freedom.
To change cop culture, we need to embark on a penetrating exploration of the criminal justice system (which was not designed for public safety) and challenge the narrow focus on enforcement. A good start would be ditching old labels, such as “to protect and serve,” which often mask unimaginative short-term campaigns. Jurisdictions should reveal how much they spend on arrests and prosecutions of repeat offenders. Finite resources could be better deployed; we already know that restorative-justice efforts, for example, can substantially reduce recidivism at a fraction of the cost.
Arrests and enforcement are mere hammers in a much larger toolbox. Instead of superficial fixes, we need a strategy that puts public service, accountability and learning at the heart of justice. Some police departments have tried becoming more outward-looking, but criminal justice leaders should embrace new approaches that view the public as a partner and enforcement as a last resort.
Caroline G. Nicholl, Alexandria