Lindsey column/ Police need to be more assertive, not more sensitive

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

At this past week’s Selma City Council meeting, a debate was stirred – imagine that – regarding a sensitivity training course for the Selma Police Department. The course was approved by the council, but a debate occurred inside the council chambers because of the affiliations regarding the course instructor and Mayor Perkins.

The cost isn’t that much, actually only $2,300. In the scheme of things, it’s not much money at all when dealing with a municipality that manages millions of dollars over the course of a year.

The problem with the course isn’t necessarily because of who is holding the seminar. Actually, it doesn’t matter if Dr. Ruth or this Ted Quant fellow, whom little is known about, taught the course.

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The SPD doesn’t need a lesson in how to be more sensitive, but rather some instruction on being more assertive.

Instead of teaching the police department how to be nicer – perhaps the city government should consider sitting the officers down and playing some re-runs of the hit reality series – “Cops.” Maybe then some of SPD’s best would get inspired to continue getting the drugs and thugs off the streets. That’s not going to happen by asking someone – “Sir, would you be so kind to put your drugs on the ground, and if you don’t mind turn around so I can handcuff you.” They are going to have to be direct with their demands and demonstrate the ability to handle tough situations.

This doesn’t condone at all the officer or two who thinks they are Dirty Harry and treats civilians badly. There shouldn’t be any abusive situations where a police officer oversteps the bounds of being respectful to someone he or she pulls over for speeding or even delivering a warrant.

But when it comes to bringing down a crack house or arresting a violent criminal, the need for sensitivity should be left at the door of the police department.

When you begin telling someone who is supposed to protect the residents of Selma that they are going to get a lesson in being sensitive, it sends the wrong message. What’s next – underwater basket weaving?

The fact remains that the citizens of Selma have long been concerned with the police department. Whether it is the number of officers on the streets, the management or the morale, there continues to be concern regarding public safety.

It just doesn’t make sense when crime continues to be an issue to take officers off the street so that they can learn to be more sensitive.

Sure, there are lots of training courses that officers go through throughout the year that probably don’t make sense to the normal person. But at some point, there ought to be expectations that the police are protecting the families of their community and that they can be assertive and even aggressive when the situation demands it.

If anyone needs some training it’s the people of this community. They are the ones who need to learn to respect law enforcement. If that were the case, sensitivity training wouldn’t be an issue.

My concern about the training stems from my previous experience in law enforcement. Prior to my newspaper days, I was fortunate enough to have worn a badge for the United States Air Force and thus know just a little about the training that police officers need and utilize on a day-to-day basis.

My problem with the training is that I question whether or not the police officers are already too nice!

The problem isn’t with the officers needing to be sensitive to issues, but rather the civilians respecting their authority. In the real world, when a police officer gives an order to a person – no matter the situation – they ought to respect that order and that’s that. If there is a problem with the officer, the way he handled a situation, there is a time to address that.

Jesse Lindsey is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal.