Ex-top cop Bill Bratton: Passionate hatred of police and policing is over the line

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There is no replacement for careful and professional recruitment and selection of police personnel. Police officers must be held to the highest standards. As Robert Peel has written: “The police are the public and the public are the police.” 

Implicit bias training does not prevent murder. It cannot make an honorable human being out of someone who is not one. It is incumbent upon the police department to staff itself with the members of the public who deserve the position.

Some cops should not be cops. There has been a torrent of examples of bad cops doing bad things, which has led to the national outcry against police officers and policing in general. 

While granting that horrific individual acts of cruelty and abuse have occurred far more often than is acceptable, I think the passionate hatred of police and policing is over the line. And when the retaliation against police officers gets violent, no matter how historically understandable the righteous rage, that is not only unacceptable but illegal. 

You can’t stone cops and firebomb their squad cars and think, one, that it is acceptable because of past grievances, and two, that you’re going to get away with it.

Unlike with other professions in which bad people do terrible things, we have a tendency in our society to paint all police officers with one brush. But there are corporate executives who milk their companies of millions of dollars and engage in stock fraud; this doesn’t define every corporate executive as a thief. There are priests who rape children, yet it is accepted that not every clergyperson is a pedophile. There are Major League Baseball players who cheat to win, but it doesn’t mean that every major leaguer is a cheat.

We are in the midst of a flood of publicized policing killings. But there are approximately 800,000 police officers working at 18,000 police departments in America. If you believe what you hear in the streets, cops are all violent criminals who will abuse you as soon as look at you. The acronym ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards – has gained currency. 

Broad‐based hatred for police is now a fundamental tenet of some radicals’ philosophy.

Broad‐based hatred for police is now a fundamental tenet of some radicals’ philosophy. Individuals among them who know cops say, “I’m not actually talking about the people; I know there are nice police officers who walk old ladies across the street. But they are all part of a system that has no redeeming features and must be abolished. And that’s what makes them bastards.” 

Calls for defunding and even disbanding the police are based on such accusations, and there is nothing police can say or do to counter such fundamentalist absolutism. No matter that statistics prove them wrong, the community is now doing exactly what we train our officers and officials not to do: stereotyping and lumping all people of one background into the same group. 

This is a component of the modern tragedy. 

Adapted from “The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America” by Bill Bratton and Peter Knobler. Published by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by William Bratton.

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