Malchman has distorted perception of policemenTo the Editor:
I would like to recall an article which was printed in The Tech under Robert E. Malchman's name ["Time to fight street crime," Jan. 30]:
"Unleashing the police is not the answer. Police officers are usually ignorant, self-aggrandizing brutes, heavily armed and heavily paranoid. (MIT's Campus Police are an exception to this rule).
"Think about it: Would you want your brother or sister to become a cop? With whom would you rather spend an evening, a policeman or a drug dealer? Who do you think would be quicker to search your belongings, unilaterally restrict your movements or beat you until he got what he wanted? Law enforcement groups have an agenda of putting people in jail and are infrequently above violating constitutional rights to achieve that agenda."
I find several points in this section of Robert Malchman's article offensive, not the least of which is the stereotyping of all policemen. A stereotype is just as wrong when applied to professionals when applied to a race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. However, I would like to avoid rhetoric and instead refute each of Malchman's points.
The very first statement, that we should or should not "unleash" the police is evidence of flawed thinking about what a policeman is and what his purpose is. The police are portrayed as mad dogs to be set upon the criminal.
The policeman is not a vicious animal, he is just a man like myself or Robert Malchman. In addition, the police are not a force to frighten muggers, murderers, and rapists into submission. They are, as some cities have stated, public safety officers. Their job is to keep people from hurting each other or themselves and to enforse the will of the judiciary and the legislature.
A police officer may not be able to protect the individual from crime, but he will always try to do so, even at the risk of his own life. This applies to everybody, whether a grandmother being mugged for her social security, or that same mugger being shot at by a vigilante.
Next we come to the most sweeping statement in the entire column. "Police officers are usually ignorant, self-aggrandizing brutes, heavily armed and heavily paranoid."
To refute this look at a specific region, for instance Missouri. Missouri is considered a very conservative, very rural, very backwards state. Surely, if the policemen of this area do not fit Malchman's description, then the police of the other states can only be assumed to have more restraint.
Malchman's first contention is that a cop is lacking in either knowledge, education, or intelligence. Before anyone can become a police officer in Missouri, he must be certified by the state. The training necessary for certification includes proper use of firearms, a knowledge of civil rights and of constitutional law, and the restraints placed upon the officer by the law.
In addition, the majority of police officers I know already have their bachelor's or master's degree or are working toward one. How many of us can claim familiarity with our constitutional rights or the limits placed upon these rights when dealing with others?
If Malchman is implying that the average cop is just stupid, then both he and The Tech can be sued for libel. Even if this statement were somehow acceptable as a fact, where does Malchman's education and intelligence give him moral superiority over the cop who has sworn to protect Malchman with his life.
Malchman now contends that police are self-aggrandizing brutes. In the first place, how can a man who joins one of the most universally detested professions, as evidenced by the column in question, be considered self-aggrandizing?
As for being a brute, again the facts do not support him. The greatest proportion of communities in Missouri require a psychological examination before a person can join a police force. These examinations are specifically tro prevent a sadistic, paranoid, or otherwise unstable personality from roaming the streets with a gun and a badge.
If it the police of these same communities to immediately suspend an officer with or without pay if he fires a single shot, even if no one was hit by the shot. The suspension lasts until the incident has been thoroughly investigated.
Of course, it is true that these are just policies, practice is an entirely different matter. Very well, look at the practice of law enforcement. Compassion is the most vital trait of a police officer. The most typical reason a policeman quits his job is because he can no longer take the constant demands on his humanity.
A police officer is required by law to be not only civil to a person who may just have shot at him, but to also protect him from the wrath of the populace, victims of the crime, and other criminals. A police officer may have to go into a home to stop a husband from waving a gun in the face of his wife and keep the marriage intact long enough for the man and woman to go to counseling the next morning.
A police officer may have to give a wino with hepatitis mouth to mouth resuscitation until a doctor is found. But if facts are still needed to convince you, consider this: Clay County is one of the most densely populated counties in Missouri.
In the past 20 years one police officer in the county has shot and killed one man. Obviously killing is brutal, so the fact that the man who died was in the process of beating the police officer with an iron pipe while attempting to escape with three other men does not count. Who is the brute, the police officer whose life was threatened while on duty, or Bernhard Goetz?
Malchman's next statement is that the police are "heavily armed and heavily paranoid." As for the heavily armed, the fact is that the police are often less well armed than the general population.
The guns carried by the Clay County Sherriff's Department are .38 caliber revolvers. Policemen have emptied these guns into an armed attacker only to find him still coming. The gun is chosen deliberately to have little stopping power. The goal of a policemen's gun is to protect him from a criminal, not to shoot a child crossing the street half a mile away.
It is obvious that a person who will take a chance with his own safety in order not to injure an innocent is hardly paranoid.
The second series of attacks upon the police comes in the guise of several questions. I would like to answer Robert Malchman's question: "Would you want your brother or sister to become a cop?"
I would be proud to be a cop myself. My father is a cop. He is the man I most respect and love in the world. I have never found him to be ignorant, self-aggrandizing, brutish, or paranoid. I would trust my father, or any police officer, to respect my rights under the Constitution, under sheer consideration of my humanity more than a drug dealer, a mugger, a vigilante, or anyone who considers himself outside of the law.
I have stated before that a policeman's job is not to put people into jail, but to prevent people from doing harm. I feel that Malchman owes an apology to me, my father, and any police office who has tried his best.
Maybe some cops do commit excesses, but if the choice is mine, the armed man next to me on the subway had better be a cop.
Derek G. Kane '86->