Warriors v. guardians: police ideology shifts to community policing


Mikinna Kerns/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Police hand out shirts before the first football game on Sept. 2, 2017.

Matt Bruder

“To protect and serve” is the motto of law enforcement agencies around the country, but throughout recent decades the public’s perception of police officers has not always been positive.

Events going back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, anti-war protests of the 1970s and Los Angeles riots of the 1990s have put strain on community relations and negatively influenced the image of law enforcement across the United States.

Even in recent years, across the United States, civilians and peace officers have been at odds in Ferguson, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Baltimore and Milwaukee and even now in Broward County where the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida occurred on Feb. 14.

Clashes between the two groups seem to be inevitable.

During situations such as these, people often question what law enforcement is really doing for them. In fact, in the wake of the Parkland incident, critics on both sides once again brought up the U.S. Supreme Court case of Warren v. District of Columbia in which the courts ruled the police have no constitutionally mandated duty to protect citizens from a third party after officers did not make an arrest in connection to a protective order granted to a Colorado woman by the courts.

While that may be the decision given by the courts in 1981, the goal of most departments is not to be seen as outsiders with a badge and a gun doing only part of what people expect but rather as an asset and valuable contributor to the success of the community.

In fact, as Matthew DeLisi, sociology professor at Iowa State with experience working with offenders and the court system, stated he “would guess that at least 90 percent of law enforcement would disagree with that court ruling.”

As the police are featured more and more in news stories across all platforms, DeLisi said it is important to remember most officers “truly want to do this to help people.”

He said most people who view police departments as outsiders are often young people who may have had a poor interaction with an officer, especially when considering that at the high school level and above much of the student population has had some offense on their record.

Community policing is now more than ever a fundamental feature of law enforcement.

DeLisi believes much of police work can be applied to what he referred to as the “90-10 rule” in which 10 percent of police duties are actually in an enforcement capacity, whereas the other 90 percent is considered public services.

Chief Michael Newton of Iowa State University Police Department echoed similar sentiments when he said community outreach is such an important part of what they do.

Additionally, he stated he believes in most departments “the community aspect was there all throughout. Folks here have that mindset.”

On the other hand, he mentioned that in some cases over time, “we [the police] got away from that partnership.

“With new buzzwords in recent years like ‘war on drugs’ or ‘war on terrorism,’” he said, “We started to get on this mindset of being a warrior.”

This shift is what people tend to notice more as it makes the headlines, but on many levels, this is not the full, true depiction of how law enforcement agencies function.

Police like, those on Iowa State’s campus, now use Twitter to engage the community and launch campaigns such as “Donut Disrespect.”

Fortunately, with efforts of departments at all levels relations between the officers and the community began to look brighter.

“To me, that’s our responsibility,” said Newton, “it takes all of us.”