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Hold the police accountable

Melvin B. Miller
Hold the police accountable
“Well, we have no intention of going where we’re not respected.” (Photo: Dan Drew)

Do citizens have the right to require a high standard of professional performance from the metropolitan police? Undoubtedly, the FBI director, James B. Comey, would concede that the people have that authority. However, according to his comments in a recent University of Chicago Law School speech, he would impose restrictions to limit public oversight.

Comey claimed that the monitoring and harsh criticism of the police have induced them to avoid responding appropriately to situations requiring police attention. Comey believes that this has caused an increase in crime.

According to a New York Times report on his speech, Comey said “I don’t know whether that explains it [rise in crime] entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.” Public reaction to the speech was generally hostile.

Much of the criticism of Comey’s statement is its insensitivity to the families of the victims of police violence. He seems willing to accept a substantial level of police violence against citizens in order to induce the active participation of the police force. Comey’s tolerance of less transparency as provided by videos and body cameras probably results from the fact that much of an FBI agent’s work is undercover. Omitted from his comments was any strong assertion by Comey that the police are required to abide by the law, even when enforcing the duty of compliance on others.

Years ago the job of a police officer was underpaid, but now in major cities the salary levels are substantial. In 2014 in Boston one police captain earned $416,000 and became a member of the 1 percent. Seven other officers earned more than $300,000 and 58 more had incomes greater than $250,000. Citizen taxpayers have the right to expect the highest standard of performance from those with such high incomes.

Any police officers who are reluctant to perform their duties because of fear of criticism should find another kind of work. At the salary levels now available to the police, citizens can no doubt recruit and train a competent police force that understands their primary duties as public servants.